Client Alert: Governor Brown Declares End of the Emergency Drought

On April 7, 2017, Governor Brown ended the drought State of Emergency he established on January 17, 2014, by issuing Executive Order B-40-17 (“Executive Order”). The State Water Resources Control Board (“Water Board”) will rescind, and no longer enforce, the water supply reliability certification and mandatory conservation standard for urban water suppliers. However, urban water suppliers are still required to report their monthly water use, and certain wasteful water use practices are still prohibited.

Drought State of Emergency Background

California experienced historic levels of drought from 2012 through 2016. During this time, the state went through its driest four years of statewide precipitation on record (2012-2015) and the smallest Sierra-Cascades snowpack on record (2015, with 5 percent of average). In response to the drought, on January 17, 2014, Governor Brown declared a State of Emergency and directed state officials to take all necessary actions to prepare for drought conditions. Since 2014, Governor Brown has issued seven executive orders to address California’s drought. Several important regulations were established to achieve water conservation goals, including prohibitions against wasteful water use practices, mandatory water conservation standards, and water supply reliability certification and reporting. With the help of these water conservation measures, California reduced its urban water use by nearly 25 percent compared to 2013 water use.

During the 2016-2017 winter season, California received plentiful rain and snow. California’s mountain snowpack and most of the state’s major reservoirs are at above-normal levels. The Executive Order issued on April 7, 2017, lifts the drought State of Emergency for most California counties; except Fresno, Kings, Tulare, and Tuolumne, where emergency drinking water projects will continue to help address diminished groundwater supplies. With the State of Emergency lifted, urban water suppliers will no longer be required to submit water supply reliability certifications or achieve minimum water conservation standards, but many of the previous requirements for water conservation remain in place.

Some Regulations Remain in Effect

The Executive Order makes clear that water conservation continues to be a way of life in California. To further water conservation efforts, while acknowledging the end of the drought emergency, the Executive Order no longer mandates minimum water conservation standards, but urban water suppliers are still required to submit monthly water use reports. Additionally, prohibitions against designated wasteful water use practices remain in effect, including restrictions on: (1) watering down a sidewalk, driveway, or other hardscapes with a hose, instead of using a broom or a brush; (2) washing automobiles with hoses not equipped with a shut-off nozzle; (3) using non-recirculated water in a fountain or other decorative water feature; (4) watering lawns in a manner that causes runoff, or within 48 hours after a rain event; and (5) irrigating ornamental turf on public street medians. The Water Board will continue to develop regulations to implement the Executive Order’s mandate for maintaining water conservation efforts throughout California.

We will continue to keep you updated on the Water Board’s actions regarding water conservation. If you have any questions regarding the extended regulations, please contact Barbara A. Brenner at barbara@churchwellwhite.com, Kerry Fuller at kerry@churchwellwhite.com, or Churchwell White LLP at (916) 468-0950.