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New Water Laws Going Into Effect in 2015

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The Legislature let its lawn die last summer, and now you can't be dinged by your HOA for doing the same. | Photo: Kevin Cort5opassi/Flickr/Creative Commons License

January 1 is a traditional day on which new laws approved by the California legislature go into effect, and the Lege passed a whole lot of laws in 2014. As a fourth severe drought year looms, it's no surprise that a lot of those laws pertain to water. We've described the most important here.

AB 148: Salton Sea Restoration

As written when first introduced, this law would have authorized feasibility studies to fund Salton Sea restoration efforts through developing the region's geothermal and solar energy resources. Those provisions were stripped out of the bill, which now merely adjusts agency responsibility for the long-delayed restoration of the Salton Sea.

AB 2100 and AB 2104: HOA lawns fines

AB 2100 is an emergency measure that went into effect as soon as it was passed in February: Homeowners associations can no longer legally fine members for letting their lawns or other landscaping die in order to save water. AB 2104 clarifies the state law that allows HOAs, saying that they can't legally forbid replacing lawns with more water-conserving plants.

SB 1168, SB 1319, and AB 1739: Groundwater Management

Until this last drought year, California had some of the least-stringent groundwater regulations in the country. A trio of bills passed in the last legislative session starts to change that. SB 1168 proclaims the state's interest in regulating groundwater sustainably, creating local groundwater sustainability agencies and specifying that existing agencies now tracking groundwater reservoirs consider the effects of their use on surface water such as streams and lakes. Sb 1319 allows the state to classify individual groundwater basins according to the degree of their depletion, and to single out "probationary" basins that are severely overdrafted. AB 1739 allows the above-mentioned groundwater sustainability agencies to assess fees of water users, as well as fines on those who continue to overdraft groundwater in probationary basins.

AB 288 and AB 474: Coastal Commission outreach

These laws affect communications of the California Coastal Commission with the public. AB 288 requires the Commission to issue meeting notices in both English and Spanish, as well as any other language that might be appropriate to the location and/or purpose of the meeting, while AB 474 expands the amount of information that must be made publicly available in so-called "ex parte" communications.

AB 1043: Groundwater contamination

This new law amends the Safe Drinking Water, Water Quality and Supply, Flood Control, River and Coastal Protection Bond Act of 2006 to establish a state Groundwater Contamination Cleanup Project Fund, which would be paid into by polluters.

AB 1096: Salton Sea license plates

Ever wish the Department of Motor Vehicles offered specialized Salton Sea restoration license plates, with proceeds going to save the Sea? This new law gives you your wish: it obliges the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to work with the DMV to offer Salton Sea Plates. Other environmental special interest plates can cost about $78 a year to renew; if the Salton Sea plates cost that much and $50 of that went into the fund, Californians would would only have to order 118 million Salton Sea special interest license plates to pay for the $5.9 billion restoration plan. That'd mean each of the state's 38 million residents would have to buy three each. Hop to it!

AB 1249: Toxic contaminants in water

This new law requires that regional water management plans document the existence and location of nitrate, arsenic, perchlorate, or hexavalent chromium contamination in local water, describe exiting efforts to contain or clean up that contamination, and detail what additional resources are needed to manage the problem.

AB 1707: Peer review

The State Water Resources Control Board is now required to post scientific peer review of its rules, or those of regional water quality control boards, on its website.

AB 1896: Coachella Valley nonpotable water use

As of January 1, homeowners associations within the severely overdrafted Coachella Valley Water District can be fined if they use potable water to irrigate landscaping plants if suitable recycled or nonpotable water is available.

AB 2067, SB 1420, and SB 1036: Water management plans

AB 2067 gives a six month extension to water companies for filing legally mandated descriptions of the companies' plans for compliance with water conservation laws. Such companies are required to submit urban water demand management plans to the Department of Water Resources by December 31, 2015: they now have until the following July 1. Similarly, those same companies are required to reduce urban water consumption 20 percent by 2020, and the Department fo Water Resources had formerly been obliged to report to the legislature on those companies' conservation plans by December 31, 2016. The DWR now has until July 2017 to make those reports. Meanwhile, SB 1036 requires that the water companies' reports include analyses of how much energy it takes to move water into their pipelines, and SB 1420 requires reports on how much water is lost in the companies' distribution systems.

AB 2282: Residential recycled water

This bill requires the California Building Standards Commission to create standard building codes for the inclusion of recycled water systems in new residential construction.

AB 2442: Water pollution investigations

This new law prevents nuisance trespass charges against staff of state or regional water quality control boards conducting investigations into possible sources of water pollution.

AB 2516: Sea level rise planning database

This bill requires the state Natural Resources Agency to create and publish a Sea Level Rise Planning database by January 1, 2016, searchable by location within California, and to update it at least once every two years.

AB 2636: CalConserve Water Use Efficiency Revolving Fund

Establishes a fund to pay for agricultural water conservation projects in California.

AB 2759: Interstate water rights

This bill tweaks the admittedly Byzantine body of California water law governing who has the right to use surface water. It's mainly intended to address conflicting claims between California and Nevada water users on water in streams that flow across the state line from California into Nevada, which essentially means the law covers just two streams: the Walker River, which flows from California east of Yosemite into Nevada's Walker Lake, and the Truckee River, which flows out of Tahoe into Nevada and empties into Pyramid Lake. The upshot: California recognizes Nevada users' claims to water in the Truckee and Walker rivers as long as Nevada enacts reciprocal agreements.

SB 985: Runoff recapture

This new law requires that state and local agencies regulating stormwater diversion systems to identify opportunities for capturing that runoff -- including summer season runoff -- for some form of reuse.

SB 1120: Local water supply projects

This law requires the state's Department of Water Resources to report on new projects intended to provide additional local water supplies.

SB 1281: Oil and gas production

Operators of oil and gas extraction wells are now required to report the amount and source of water they use during operation of their wells "to generate or make up the composition of any injected fluid or gas" -- in other words, for fracking and similar well enhancement activities.

SB 1395: Contaminated public beaches

Public health agencies in the state are now allowed to use sophisticated Polymerase Chain Reaction tests to determine whether water samples at beaches contain unsafe levels of Enterococcus bacteria, which are generally used as an indicator of sewage contamination.

AB 2071: Recycled water

Requires the State Water Resources Control Board to look into whether it's safe to use recycled water to hydrate animals, including dairy cattle, and to approve that use if the Board decides it's safe.

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