Water Efficiency, Safe Drinking Water and CEQA’s Red Tape Addressed in New Laws

By Best Best & Krieger LLP

California lawmakers passed a wave of laws last year that notably impact the way public agencies do business.

Part III of this three-part series, examines the numerous new laws that local leaders should be aware dealing with residential water usage, on-site water recycling and the California Environmental Quality Act. We delve into these new laws below. Unless otherwise noted, these laws became effective Jan. 1.

Be sure to see Part I on new elections, revenue, property and public safety laws and Part II, which addressed housing and land use updates.

Ensuring Safe Water, Increasing Efficiency

Numerous water efficiency bills were adopted in 2018 to ensure California communities have access to safe drinking water and to address the State’s water shortage through new standards for residential water usage and small-scale, on-site water recycling. These changes, and others, are explained here:

  • Assembly Bill 747: The State Water Resources Control Board will no longer have sole authority over the enforcement actions it brings against water users. Starting July 1, attorneys in the new Administrative Hearings Office will act as impartial hearing officers to ensure that water rights matters, including water-related cannabis enforcement matters, are resolved in a timely manner. 
  • Assembly Bill 1668: To push Californians to live within their water means, the SWRCB and Department of Water Resources will establish long-term urban water use efficiency standards by June 2022 — including elements for indoor and outdoor residential use, and performance measures for commercial, industrial and institutional usage. The law sets a per-person indoor residential water use standard of 55 gallons per day until 2025, which decreases thereafter.
  • Assembly Bill 2501: State law establishes the right to safe, clean, affordable and accessible water for every Californian. This law ensures that disadvantaged communities are supplied with safe drinking water by authorizing the SWRCB to order consolidation with a nearby municipality if a water system or well consistently fails to adequately provide safe water to community.
  • Senate Bill 606: Urban retail water suppliers must now calculate and comply with their water usage objectives and report those objectives and their actual water use annually to the Department of Water Resources starting Nov. 1, 2023. The law requires suppliers to include a drought risk assessment and water shortage contingency plans in their 5-year Urban Water Management Plans.
  • Senate Bill 966: To address the State’s water shortage, this law develops statewide on-site water reuse regulations that will allow local governments to increase their water recycling at individual sites — including multi-family residential, commercial and mixed-use buildings — in addition to utility-scale water recycling plants.
  • Senate Bill 998: This law impacts the existing practices and policies that private and public water systems have relating to delinquent accounts and discontinuation. Procedural protections against the discontinuation of service for nonpayment have been added, including: Not allowing service to be ended unless a payment is delinquent for 60 days and the customer has been notified at least seven business days in advance. In 2020, providers with more than 200 service connections must have their policies available in any language spoken by 10 percent of the people in their service area.
  • Senate Bill 1215: Recognizing the relationship between safe drinking water and adequate wastewater treatment, SB 1215 authorizes regional water control boards to order the provision of a sewer service by a special district, city or county to a disadvantaged community with inadequate onsite sewage treatment systems, in much the same manner that AB 2501 consolidates water systems to provide safe drinking water to disadvantaged communities.

Eliminating CEQA’s Home-Building Red Tape

After a multi-year, public process, a comprehensive update to the CEQA guidelines was approved by the California Natural Resources Agency and Office of Administrative Law.

Finalized in December, the numerous revisions include efficiency changes and technical improvements that address recent case law. State lawmakers also addressed various CEQA issues in 2018:

  • Promoting Housing Developments: Assembly Bill 1804 provides infill development, residential and mixed-use housing projects located in unincorporated areas that meet certain requirements with a statutory exemption from CEQA. This provision remains in effect until Jan. 1, 2025.
  • Aesthetic Impacts on the Environment: Aesthetic effects do not need to be evaluated and may not be considered significant effects on the environment under CEQA for housing projects involving the refurbishment, conversion, repurposing or replacement of an existing building that meet certain requirements. Assembly Bill 2341 doesn’t apply to projects involving potentially significant aesthetic effects to scenic highways or to projects with potentially significant aesthetic effects to historical or cultural resources. It’s in effect until Jan. 1, 2024.
  • Non-environmental Benefits: With the passage of Assembly Bill 2782, lead agencies can evaluate the environmental impact of a proposed project under CEQA to consider non-environmental benefits, including: Economic, legal, social and technological benefits, the region-or state-wide environmental benefits and negative impacts of denying the project.

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Best Best & Krieger LLP focuses on environmental, municipal, special districts, employee benefits and telecommunications law for public agency clients. With more than 200 attorneys, the law firm has 10 offices nationwide, including Los Angeles, Irvine, Riverside and Sacramento. For more information, visit www.bbklaw.com.