New Water Conservation Laws for California

California is in the midst of a drought so severe that Gov. Brown has declared a state of emergency. He directed state officials to take necessary actions to prepare for drought conditions and is urging all Californians to reduce water consumption by 20 percent.

Water year 2013 (Oct. 1, 2012 – Sept. 30, 2013) was recorded as the driest year in California history, and 2014 is projected to be worse. Currently, 99 percent of California is abnormally dry. As a result of dry weather conditions, major river systems have had significant loss in surface water and ground water levels throughout the state have dropped dramatically.

faucetA recent snow survey showed the snowpack at 24 percent of the normal average for this time of year. The snowpack in the Sierra Nevada’s melts into rivers and reservoirs that supply a third of California’s water to cities and farms. With two-thirds of the rainy season behind us, there is little chance for the water supply to recover.

A statewide law went into effect in 2009, requiring a 20-percent reduction in per capita water use by 2020 regardless of weather conditions. The legislation declares water a public resource that is protected by the California Constitution.

The average Californian uses 196 gallons of water per day, with 30-60 percent of their water usage outdoors. Reducing water consumption by 20 percent would conserve 38 gallons a day. The easiest way to start reducing water consumption is by switching out older plumbing fixtures with water-conserving plumbing fixtures. Old toilets and showerheads alone use three times as much water as water-conserving toilets and showerheads.

To help conserve water as efficiently as possible, Gov. Brown approved Senate Bill 407 requiring all single family homes built prior to 1994 to replace any noncompliant plumbing fixtures with water-conserving plumbing fixtures on or before January 1, 2017. Noncompliant plumbing fixtures include: any toilet manufactured to use more than 1.6 gallons of water per flush, any showerhead manufactured to have a flow capacity of more than 2.5 gallons of water per minute, any interior faucet that emits more than 2.2 gallons of water per minute, and any urinal manufactured to use more than one gallon of water per flush. Homeowners and landlords who are remodeling or altering a home, should be aware of this law.

Homeowners can find out if their plumbing fixtures are compliant with a few quick tests. Toilets made before 1993 use anywhere from 3.5 gallons of water per flush to 8 gallons of water per flush while most models made after 1993 are compliant. Look under the tank lid to find when the toilet was made, the manufacturer date is often stamped onto the porcelain. If it is an ultra-low flow toilet, the fine print on the toilet bowl behind the seat will say.

To test the flow capacity of a showerhead, homeowners will need a 5 gallon bucket and a stop watch. Place the bucket underneath the showerhead while on full blast for two minutes. If the bucket doesn’t overflow during the 2 minutes, the showerhead is compliant. If the bucket overflows, the showerhead will need to be replaced.

Additionally, beginning Jan. 1, 2017, SB407 requires a seller or transferor of most types of real property to disclose to a purchaser or transferee, in writing, the requirements for replacing plumbing fixtures and if the real property includes any noncompliant plumbing fixtures.

Although the law only requires that plumbing fixtures be replaced, some local governments and water agencies throughout the state have even stricter requirements. To find out more about additional water restrictions or rebates that may apply, contact the city, county or local water agency where the house is located.

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