Water Conservation Pricing

Successful water conservation pricing mechanisms provide economic incentives that promote consumer conservation.
Successful water conservation pricing mechanisms provide economic incentives that promote consumer conservation.

As California continues into its fourth consecutive year of drought, the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) and other agencies have continually been taking various actions to respond to the below-average rainfall.

Most recently, on Wednesday July 8th, the SWRCB held a public workshop addressing Directive 8—of Executive Order B-29-15—in developing rate structures and other pricing mechanisms that promote water conservation to prevent wasteful water use.

Many stakeholders from all over California participated in the day’s discussions and the general consensus was that the SWRCB could provide technical assistance in developing tools. Helpful tools that were discussed include a clearinghouse and gathering of successful case studies and best practices, and a focus on disadvantaged communities. Water pricing is very local and all water agencies analyze multiple variables in developing their rate structures and it will be important to take this into account in creating these tools to ensure the entire spectrum is mapped out—no “one-size-fits-all” approach.

A significant amount of the dialogue also revolved around the recent San Juan Capistrano litigation. Michael Colantuono—an attorney for the city—described the case and what the court got wrong, which included analyses of the California Constitution article X, Section 2; Brydon v. East Bay Utility District; and proportionality. The more successful cases have presented strong administrative records. Court decisions that have analyzed the proportionality requirements of Proposition 218 differently include Griffith v. Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency, Morgan v. Imperial Irrigation District and Moore v. City of Lemon Grove. As Felicia Marcus, Chair of SWRCB, noted at the end of the discussion, “…[the San Juan Capistrano] case doesn’t make tier grades impossible, you just have to dot your I’s and cross your T’s more carefully.”

As Joe Grindstaff, General Manager of Inland Empire Utilities Agency mentioned, “If you just do regulation and culture isn’t changing, you will fail.” If these conservation-pricing mechanisms are developed successfully they could be a very important tool in transforming how Californians use water.

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