SACRAMENTO – Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 814 into law to crack down on excessive water use during droughts. The law, effective Jan. 1, 2017, penalizes the state's biggest water wasters and could result in public disclosure of their names.
The new law requires retail water suppliers with more than 3,000 customers to put
in place rules that define excessive water use and enforce them during drought
The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jerry Hill, stated,
“[SB 814] is the result of a San Mateo resident’s demand for households
ignoring water use restrictions to be held accountable.”
He said a California resident
submitted the idea through his “Oughta Be a Law” contest after becoming
incensed by new reports revealing hundreds of households were using millions of
gallons of water per year; one was listed as consuming a whopping 12 million
gallons in a single year during a period when restrictions were in place.
Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California, told the Northern California
Record she believes the potential of having names made public will curb
excessive water use.
“The excessive water use bill provides water
agencies an essential tool for going after water users who don't conserve and
don't take responsibility during a drought," she said. "We can just hope that the price
signals that these penalties send will help them become more sensitive to
saving water. We're all in this together, and sometimes people need an extra
Cities, water districts and
private water companies can choose to impose tiered rates to charge a higher
amount to people who use more than the set limits, or they can institute a fine
for households using more than that amount. This fine triggers a requirement
under the California Public Records Act (CPRA) mandating the names of fined households to be made public.
The East Bay Municipal
Utility District (EBMUD) passed a similar excessive water use ordinance adopted
by the board of directors in April 2015. It targets customers who use more
than 1,000 gallons of water per day and fines them. Under the CPRA, those names
were made public.
EBMUD reported, “Of some 5,600 individual customers who were
assessed excessive use penalties, three-quarters reduced their water use below
the 80-unit threshold to avoid a repeat penalty.”
Phillips said the impact of
excessive waters use has a ripple effect; water waste by one customer deprives
other customers of needed water, and can result in dangerous levels of water
being removed from the environment.
“Basically, water is a finite resource," she said. "Also, allowing customers to use excessive amounts of water is unfair and
discourages others from practicing responsible conservation. California's water
system is so large and networked statewide so that any overuse ultimately
affects all of us, wherever we live in the state.
“Most overuse of water during this
drought is due to landscape demands. People have a hard time giving up their
big lawns and tropical plantings. We're all going to have to adjust to the
realities of water limits, particularly now that we're facing the effects of
Some residents have raised concerns in
the past that medical conditions may necessitate the use of more water than
permitted during a drought. Phillips said there is an appeals process in place
for unusual circumstances that can accommodate a medical necessity for
consuming large amounts of water.