State Water Board Updates the “Make Conservation a California Way of Life” Framework, but are the Changes Enough?
Posted in Water Supply
State Water Board Updates the “Make Conservation a California Way of Life” Framework, but are the Changes Enough?

On March 12, 2024, the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) announced updates to the “Make Conservation a California Way of Life” framework that is based on SB 606 and AB 1668 from 2018. The changes seek to identify issues identified by commenters on the framework as well as the Legislative Analysts’ Office (LAO), but it is unclear whether they will be enough to satiate critics. Deadlines are fast approaching, as the State Water Board plans to hold a public workshop on the proposed updates on March 20, 2024 and comments on the regulation are due on March 27, 2024.


As we previously detailed, the framework is designed around water use objectives, which are water use targets for urban water agencies. The objectives are based on residential indoor use; residential outdoor use; commercial, use by industrial, and institutional (CII) landscapes with dedicated irrigation meters; and water loss. The original idea of the framework was that agencies could have flexibility within the individual portions of the objectives as long as they met the overall objective.

However, Nossaman also discussed in its previous analysis, the LAO issued a sharp criticism of the framework and the State Water Board’s regulations. One of the primary issues was that the individual segments of the framework were so stringent that it turned one overall objective into four smaller objectives, each of which have to be met individually. A second issue was that because the State Water Board and others were delayed due to COVID-19, a number of the deadlines in the framework no longer made sense. A third issue was that the regulations needed to focus more on impacts to lower-income customers.

Changes to the Framework

The State Water Board’s recently-announced updates appear to be its attempt to respond to the LAO’s criticisms. As detailed in the press release, the updates were geared toward “extending timelines for water suppliers to meet efficiency goals, broadening their access to alternative compliance pathways and increasing the overall flexibility for how the proposed regulation can be implemented.” The comments, including those from the board’s executive director, focus on improving the process for water suppliers.

The State Water Board’s announcement also included the changes to the draft regulatory language. Those show that the State Water Board did effectively address the deadline issue, now requiring compliance by January 1, 2027 (i.e., giving suppliers a couple of years to work on compliance). It also removed the ban on watering non-functional turf, which included a date that was inconsistent with other legislation. These changes do seem to align directly with the areas of concern noted by the LAO.

The other most significant change is represented in 23 CCR section 966 (i), which is one of the key alternate compliance pathways. The changes to that pathway included broadening applicability by allowing all agencies with median household incomes below the state’s median to invoke the exception while the previous version only applied if the relevant area was 80% or less of the median. Other changes include only requiring a 1% annual reduction in usage (previously, it was 2%), setting 2024-2026 as the base comparison period (ostensibly, this would change every year under the previous draft, making reductions harder as usage decreases over time), and other changes seemingly designed to make use of the exception easier.

The 966 (i) change seems to be the primary change geared at making compliance easier and addressing the needs of lower-income California, two of the LAO’s primary areas of concern. There are other changes to the regulations, but nothing quite as substantive. The real question is if the 966 (i) change is enough. While it does enable more agencies to avoid the base water use objective process, it seemingly does nothing for most of the agencies in the state, i.e., it does not change anything for those who could previously use 966 (i) or for the roughly half of agencies that cannot use the new section. While the 966 (i) change is a positive, the change alone is likely not enough to overcome the issues identified by the LAO. As the statutory and regulatory structure exists, the framework is essentially four different requirements, agencies do not have sufficient flexibility, and the concerns of lower-income Californians are not properly accounted for.

What’s Next

The State Water Board’s posting of the updates to the draft regulations started a two-week comment period, which ends on March 27, 2024.

Additionally, the State Water Board will be hosting a public workshop discussing the changes to the framework and accepting public comment. 

Now that the State Water Board has acted, the ball is largely in the state legislature’s court. The LAO’s report is actually directed to the legislature, not the State Water Board. Moreover, the legislature has much more flexibility in changing the actual framework itself whereas the State Water Board is limited to regulations interpreting that framework. Either way, this will continue to be an issue worth watching for water providers across the state.

  • Alexander J. Van Roekel

    Alex Van Roekel provides counsel to clients on state and federal water law issues, including compliance with statutory and regulatory requirements, litigation strategy in both state and federal court and public policy within the ...

California Water Views provides timely and insightful updates on the water sector in the state. We relay information on how water legislation and policy from the nation’s capital, Sacramento, and around the U.S. affect California’s water utilities, agencies, practitioners, and consumers.  We also write about important events, conferences, legal cases, and other key happenings involving all things water in and around California.

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