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Governor’s order expands water efficiency rules

Issue Date: May 11, 2016
By Kate Campbell

Water management plans for agricultural water districts will be expanded, and more districts will be required to submit the plans, under an executive order issued Monday by Gov. Brown. The requirements came as part of an order that also requires urban water agencies to make permanent a number of water-efficiency measures instituted last year at the height of the California drought.

The agricultural provisions of the governor's order include that the state Department of Water Resources work with the state Department of Food and Agriculture to update existing requirements for agricultural water management plans. The plans, first required as part of 2009 state legislation, commit irrigation districts serving more than 25,000 acres of farmland to enhance measurement of water use and institute pricing schedules that charge for water on a per-unit basis.

Under the governor's order, those plans must also "identify and quantify measures to increase water efficiency" in the district's service area, and must "adequately plan for periods of limited water supply."

The order also expands the number of irrigation districts that must prepare the plans, by requiring them to be completed by all districts serving at least 10,000 irrigated acres. Previously, those districts were required to do so only if the state provided funding to allow completion of the plans.

Updated draft requirements for the agricultural water management plans will be released by Jan. 10, 2017, the order said, after the state agencies consult with agricultural water suppliers, local governments, agricultural producers, environmental groups "and other partners."

California Farm Bureau Federation Director of Water Resources Danny Merkley said the order will place additional responsibilities on irrigation districts, and that Farm Bureau and other groups would urge state agencies to ensure the new requirements accommodate local conditions.

During a media briefing on the governor's order, California Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross said California farmers have consistently moved to greater water-use efficiency in recent decades, adding that farmers are using less applied water but yields have increased significantly—8 percent less water applied, but 57 percent higher yields.

During the drought, which is now moving into its fifth year, Ross said on-farm incentive programs have helped farmers improve water-use technology to maintain production levels. She said the State Water Efficiency and Enhancement Program has an additional $8.2 million available to accelerate adoption of technology to improve water saving and reduce energy use.

Citing the work of farmers, researchers and government agencies, Ross said, "None of us want to slip back to pre-drought activity and attitude. We have an opportunity to carefully nurture the next generation of Californians to value water for the benefits it brings to each one of us."

While the severity of the drought has lessened in some parts of California after winter rains and snow, officials stressed the current drought has not ended. In releasing the executive order, the governor's office noted that for the fifth consecutive year, dry conditions persist in many areas of the state, with limited drinking water supplies in some communities, diminished water for agricultural production and environmental habitat, and severely depleted groundwater basins.

Brown's executive order calls for long-term improvements to local drought preparation across the state, and directs the State Water Resources Control Board to develop proposed emergency water restrictions for 2017 if the drought persists.

Among its other provisions, the order requires urban water suppliers to continue monthly water-use reporting on a permanent basis and permanently prohibits what the governor called "wasteful practices" such as hosing off sidewalks and driveways, watering lawns in a manner that causes runoff and washing cars with hoses not equipped with a shutoff nozzle.

To ensure compliance with the new conservation targets and water management plan requirements, the order directs DWR, the state water board and the California Public Utilities Commission to develop methods that could include technical and financial assistance, along with regulatory oversight.

The full text of the executive order is online at

(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.

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