Senate Committee Passes Three Bills Authored by Senator Wiener to Protect and Conserve California’s Water

April 19, 2017

Sacramento –  Today the Senate Environmental Quality Committee approved three bills by Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) that will protect and conserve California’s water. These bills form a broad approach to water policy, by protecting waterways like San Francisco Bay and the California coastline from tar sands oil spills, creating a framework for onsite water reuse statewide, and establishing landscape standards to better improve water conservation.

SB 709 will protect California’s waterways from dangerous spills of tar sands oil (the same oil to be transported in the Keystone XL Pipeline.) SB 740 requires the establishment of a regulatory framework, including health standards, for non-potable water used in irrigation and toilet flushing, thus encouraging and helping local jurisdictions to develop local water reuse programs. SB 780 sets standards for landscape design based on best water conservation practices, and offers incentives to install these landscapes.

“Despite the Governor’s welcome declaration that our multi-year drought is over, it’s important that we continue to work to protect and preserve our water in California so we are prepared for the next drought,” said Senator Wiener. “These bills comprise a multi-faceted strategy to change how we think about and use water, which is not an infinite resource. Now is the best time to invest and improve our water policies, before the next drought comes, and I look forward to continuing to push these and other smart water policy bills forward.” 

SB 709 -- Protecting California Waterways from Dangerous Spills of Tar Sands Oil

SB 709 requires that any operator wishing to transport tar sands oil or other non-floating oil in or near a California waterway must have a contingency plan specifically outlining how it will clean up non-floating oils and identifying an organization that can and will engagement in that clean up. If the operator cannot provide such a contingency plan or identify such an organization, the transport permit will be denied. Currently, there is no known organization capable of cleaning up tar sands if a spill occurs. A 2010 tar sands spill in the Kalamazoo River that occurred from a rupture in a pipeline led to the environmental devastation of the river’s ecosystem and took over five years to clean up.

SB 709 is sponsored by San Francisco Baykeeper and supported by the California League of Conservation Voters, Natural Resources Defense Council, Save the Bay, Surfrider Foundation, Californians for Energy Choice, Clean Water Action, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, International Bird Rescue, Pacific Coast Federation of Fisherman’s Associations,, and the Bay Institute.

SB 740 – Expanding Water Recycling in California

Developing water reuse programs is essential to lowering both public and private water usage in cities and counties. However, there are no statewide standards, such as health standards, for how rainwater, graywater, stormwater, blackwater and foundation drainage need to be treated and used for nonpotable purposes like irrigation and toilet flushing. While local jurisdictions can develop their own standards for non-potable use, this creates inconsistencies across the state and resistance to develop these standards. This impedes the expansion of water reuse programs and proper management of these treated alternate water sources.

SB 740 requires that the State Water Resources Control Board adopt regulations for a comprehensive framework to assist local jurisdictions interested in developing water reuse programs. The oversight and management of onsite treatment of water for non-potable use developed under this framework will be risk-based and focused on protecting public health. SB 740 is sponsored by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, and supported by a wide range of environmental, sustainability, and good government groups including the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, San Francisco Baykeeper, CalTrans, Clean Water Action, and the U.S. Green Building Council.

SB 780 – Designing More Sustainable and Water-Efficient Landscaping and Lawns

Over half of all urban water use in California is dedicated to landscaping. Though many solutions and programs for efficient landscaping exist, there are areas that are not currently captured, including landscapes under 2,500 square feet or ones that do not require a permit. SB 780 targets these opportunities for water efficiency and sustainability upgrades.

SB 780 will set statewide standards for design and installation of landscapes based on a watershed approach, with water-efficiency a key factor. The four elements of watershed landscaping are:

  • Healthy, living soil
  • Rainwater retention and infiltration
  • Climate-appropriate plants
  • Highly efficient supplemental irrigation, when necessary

These standards can be applied to all landscapes, including lawns, but are not mandatory. The program, instead, includes incentives to promote water-efficient landscaping and lawns by requiring that all state-administered landscaping funding and incentive programs incorporate these standards in their guidelines, and providing a preference to entities that incorporate these standards in their projects in accessing locally-administered funding. SB 780 also promotes workforce benefits and education and training in these watershed practices so that California residents, and particularly young people, can access work opportunities.

SB 780 is supported by the Association of Professional Landscape Designers – California Chapter, the Green Gardens Group, the Surfrider Foundation, the California Association of Local Conservation Corps, the Sierra Club, Save the Bay, Trust for Public Land, and many other organizations.