Are cities required to produce detailed water conservation plans?

Published: Wednesday, Apr. 2, 2014 - 12:00 am

Q: Are cities required to produce detailed water conservation plans so consumers can see what they would do at more severe stages of drought? – Kate McCarthy, Lincoln

A: Each water provider generally has ordinances it follows to limit water demand during drought. These local rules describe conservation “stages” that restrict how water can be used, and increase penalties, depending on how bad the drought is. The details are often difficult to find and vary by agency. A good clearinghouse for this information in the Sacramento region is the Regional Water Authority website, which includes a map to locate your water agency and links to that agency’s website:

Also, state law requires water providers to prepare an “urban water management plan” every five years, which details how they will meet growth demands over a 20-year period. This is not exactly the same as a conservation plan, but it does describe where the agency intends to obtain additional water to satisfy population growth, whether through a new supply, conservation, recycling or all those things.

The plans must estimate water demand and supply under three climate conditions: average year, drought year, and multi-year drought. The California Department of Water Resources collects and reviews the plans, which are available online at

New legislation in 2009 requires cities in California to cut water consumption 20 percent by 2020. Progress toward this goal must be reported in the water management plans, starting with the plans filed in 2010.

Any water agency that has more than 3,000 service connections or supplies at least 3,000 acre-feet of water per year is required to submit a plan. There are 441 such agencies statewide. About 400 have submitted plans, said DWR program manager Peter Brostrom. Those that fail to submit a plan are not eligible for grants and loans offered by DWR for water-related projects.

“They are primarily water-supply reliability documents,” Brostrom said. “But they do have a broader conservation chapter in there. Some people did a lot; sometimes it’s maybe a paragraph or two on it.”

The plans ask each agency to develop “demand management measures,” basically conservation projects to stretch water supply, such as low-flow toilet rebates and conservation education programs. Agencies have the option, instead, to adopt so-called “best management practices” to reduce consumption. These standard measures are overseen by the California Urban Water Conservation Council and are a popular alternative for many providers.

The council collects progress reports from agencies that have agreed to follow its conservation best management practices. By July, it expects to have these reports available on its website at In the meantime, customers can obtain progress reports for their water provider by calling the council at (916) 552-5885.

Submit your question for The Sacramento Bee’s water team.

Call The Bee’s Matt Weiser at (916) 321-1264. Follow him on Twitter @matt_weiser.

Read more articles by Matt Weiser

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