Lessons Learned from
Owned Water Utilities
BY JACK HAWKS
When California entered its fourth year of unre- lenting drought in 2015, the state regulators took action, forcing all water providers to make
fundamental changes in how they operate and to develop
plans for sustainable water supplies and financially-sound
Investor-owned utilities (IOUs) are at the forefront in responding and are leading the way in preparing for tomorrow’s
THE CALL TO ACTION
In April 2015, Governor Jerry Brown issued his third
drought-related Executive Order, mandating a series of statewide actions designed to achieve a 25 percent reduction in
water use by the urban sector between June 2015 and March
2016, as compared with the same months in 2013.
The State Water Resources Control Board (State Board)
was charged with implementing this directive and set reduc-
tion targets ranging from 8 to 36 percent for each of the 411
urban water suppliers (more than 3,000 service connections).
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which reg-
ulates investor-owned water utilities in the state, quickly fol-
lowed with two resolutions mandating compliance with the
Governor’s Executive Order and conservation targets set by
the State Board.
Communities with the highest per capita water use were
ordered to conserve the most. Water providers were required
to meet their conservation targets or face possible sanctions,
ranging from warning letters to financial penalties, potentially
up to $10,000 per day.
These actions followed emergency regulations set into
place a year earlier to increase water conservation by water
providers and their customers, and to prohibit certain wasteful practices such as landscape watering that causes runoff.
Californians achieved 96 percent of the Governor’s goal,
reducing urban water use by 23. 9 percent through February
2016, an amount representing savings of nearly 388 billion
gallons, demonstrating a huge collaborative commitment and
IOUs led the way in this effort, with 59 of their reporting
water districts topping the statewide average by nearly three
percentage points. Through February 2016, IOU customers used 26. 7 percent less water compared with 2013. Even
though the mandatory reduction targets ended (temporarily)
on June 1, 2016, the collective percentage of water saved by
IOUs remained strong at 24. 4 percent — besting the state
average of 23. 3 percent savings from June through August.
California American Water embraced direct outreach to customers, sending conservation teams to knock on doors in high-water-using neighborhoods to get them on board with conservation efforts.
San Jose Water Company’s water audit program provides free water
audits to single family, multi-family, and commercial customers to identify leaks, inefficient plumbing fixtures and appliances, review irrigation
schedules, check for broken sprinkler heads and excessive runoff, and
also install complimentary low-flow shower heads and aerators.