The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed suit on Thursday against the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) to ensure that $200 million of grant funding has maximum water-saving impact by making sure that grant agreements with local water suppliers include water conservation measures as well. In the filing, NRDC challenged the DWR’s award of grants to water suppliers that have neither implemented the water conservation measures called for by Assembly Bill 1420 and the Water Conservation Act in 2007 and 2009, respectively, nor committed to do so.

“This is the worst drought our state has seen in more than 1,000 years,” said Steve Fleischli, director of NRDC’s water program. “In times like these, every effort should be made to save water, and that includes enforcing the laws that tie state financial assistance to the implementation of local water-saving measures.”

The lawsuit would not block funds to any grant applicants; rather it asks for DWR to insert a provision in grant agreements that would ensure that water suppliers will carry out well-established water-conservation measures as a condition of receiving state grant money.  

“We have a huge opportunity to do a lot of good with these grants—to truly get the most bang for our buck when dealing with this drought or the next,” said Fleischli. “We’re simply asking the courts to make sure that the Department of Water Resources is a good steward of taxpayer money and that water agencies seeking state funds comply with existing law as a condition of getting that money.”

The State Legislature passed Assembly Bill 1420 in 2007 and the Water Conservation Act in 2009. Both statutes were designed to help make California more resilient to dry times like this. The laws requires urban water agencies and large agricultural water districts seeking state grants or loans to adopt certain water efficiency practices that will help them better plan and prepare for dry periods –such as measuring the amount of water that agencies are delivering to their customers and charging customers based on the amount of water they use instead of flat rates.  

“With all of the new bond money the voters approved last November, it is important that the Department get things right from the start,” Fleischli said. “Otherwise, we might not meet the Governor’s ambitious goals to save water throughout California.”