top of page

Don't Use So Much Water

New rules in California aim to reduce water use but not as much as previously planned. However, some communities will still need to cut consumption by nearly one-third.

Consumers are the primary focus of the changes as water providers work to lessen use. The agricultural community is already adjusting to the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA), which passed the state assembly in 2014.

              “Rulemaking to Make Conservation a California Way of Life”

That is the headline on the website for the State Water Resources Control Board, the entity that announced the new water consumption rules this month. The rules are geared to “make conservation a California way of life,” the website stated.

“As part of the state’s all-of-the-above strategy to expand storage, develop new water supplies, and promote more efficient water use, this regulation seeks to cultivate long-term practices that help communities adapt to California’s ongoing water challenges. The proposed regulation will lessen the need for the emergency water use reduction targets that were important in recent droughts.”

-State Water Resources Control Board

Decreased water consumption has been a focus over the past decade in California. A law passed in 2018 recognized existing law that required a 20% reduction in urban per capita water use by December 31, 2020.

The law called for statewide studies to collect information so that policy makers could create additional guidelines to further reduce water use. Water consumption would be gradually reduced.

California Standard for Indoor Residential Water Use

  • Before January 1, 2025: 55 gallons per capita

  • Beginning January 1, 2025: 52.5 gallons per capita

  • Beginning January 1, 2030: 50 gallons per capita

January 1st becomes a significant date each year according to the proposed guidelines released this week. On that date in 2025, urban retail water suppliers are required to calculate urban water use objectives.

But in 2027, those suppliers must do more than just calculate. Beginning January 1, 2027, each supplier must “demonstrate compliance with its objective,” the guidelines state.

“Efficient water use” is a key component. Calculations would include efficient indoor and outdoor residential water use, along with commercial, industrial, and institutional landscapes.

Guidelines also include bonus incentives for “potable reuse.”

The American Water Works Association defines potable reuse as “recycled or reclaimed water that is safe for drinking.”

Mandating decreased use of water underscores the severity of weather challenges that California has suffered. Drought hasn’t just been a bad year blip. Looking back at the previous 13 years, eight represented a year-long severe drought.

The use guidelines announced by the State Water Resources Control Board aren’t only for years with drought. These apply regardless of precipitation.

However, they are more relaxed than originally devised following criticism. The Mercury News provided this:

“Under the old rules, 168 agencies that serve 42% of California’s population would have had to cut water use 20% or more by 2035. Under the new rules, just 46 agencies, representing 10% of the population, will have to cut water use that much.

Now, communities that are required to cut use by 20% or more, but where the median household income is below the state average, can stay in compliance if they reduce by 1% a year. Regulators also delayed tougher outdoor watering standards from 2030 to 2035.”


And the revised guidelines also reflect differences in how some communities have already successfully decreased water use. The Mercury News pointed out that providers in the San Francisco Bay area like the San Jose Water Company (No change), City of Palo Alto (-1.36%), and City of Sonoma (-2.47%) will be required to make minimal use changes by 2040.

But other agencies in the Central Valley and Southern California haven’t already lowered water use, so some communities will have to cut 30% or more from overall use by 2040.

Last winter brought much-needed precipitation to the state, albeit far too much at times with heavy flooding. The Sierra Nevada snowpack was the biggest in four decades. But the new water consumption rules are designed for longer-term.

The California Legislative Analyst’s Office report showed that agriculture remains the dominant area of water consumption in the state with four times as much use compared to consumer use.  

But policy leaders want decreased water consumption a priority for all.


American Farmland Owner Hayfields mountains


Subscribe to Where Landowners Get Their News® and be the first aware of agricultural insights, analysis, and in-depth interviews.


Thanks for submitting!

bottom of page