Legal waves

Legal waves

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Here's what you need to know about water legislation on the state and federal level.

July 17, 2013
Richard Restuccia

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Over the past few years as a member of the Government and Regulatory affairs committee for the Irrigation Association, I have been fortunate enough to meet with leaders on the hill to discuss legislation concerning water. This includes staff from President Obama, John McCain, Diane Feinstein, and Barbara Boxer’s offices. The consistent message I receive is that lawmakers are giving us the opportunity to solve the water issues facing our industry today. This is great news for all of us promoting more efficient ways to irrigate landscapes.

This news is encouraging but the opportunity to create change is limited. During the past year we have seen significant activity in the area of bills about water and water delivery. Some of the bills are at the federal level and others at the state. Both are changing the way we think about water management, and below is the legislation I believe is most important to watch.

State bills of interest.
North Carolina wins my vote for the most interesting bill. HB 787 originally was drafted to require household water use be restricted to 45 gallons per day per person by 2020 or pay a substantial fine.

The bill is now dead. It was amended to remove the requirement that household water use be restricted to 45 gallons per day, and it was replaced with a requirement that such a restriction be studied. The bill ultimately died in committee at the end of the 2012 North Carolina legislative session. It has not been re-introduced.

The state of Massachusetts is working on S.342 requiring the use of a “system interruption device” for the installation or retrofit of landscape irrigation systems. That language is flexible enough to include weather-based smart controllers and soil moisture sensors, as well as standard rain shutoff devices. The bill should see action this year in the Massachusetts Senate. Similar legislation has been drafted in Indiana and I hope we see more of this type of positive legislation across the nation.

Texas is working on several bills at this time. Texas HB 2062 would place rainwater harvesting (currently unregulated in Texas) as an activity regulated under the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners, as the sole purview of licensed plumbers.

This is one of a few states still driving issues of outdoor irrigation to the plumbing industry. This is interesting to me because Texas is a state requiring irrigators to have a state license. They have pride in irrigation training and as a result have very qualified irrigators in the state. If the state believes it needs to regulate rain water harvesting, the irrigators would be the appropriate group to oversee these activities. Unofficially this bill dead, but anything can still happen. It will be interesting to watch this process in Texas continue to develop.

Texas HB 2179 would place the Texas backflow permitting program under the Texas State Board of Plumbing Examiners, as the sole purview of licensed plumbers.

This is a take-away from housing of the program alongside the licensing of Texas irrigation contractors, within the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Texas SB 4 establishes a new fund for water projects in Texas. The State Water Implementation Fund of Texas (SWIFT), a fund outside of the state treasury, would allow for funding the State Water Plan outside of the state budget, through the sale of bonds. Although the total value of the fund has not been set in this bill, the State Water Plan calls for $53 billion worth of projects to address water shortage more than 50 years. At least $2 billion would be funded initially after passage of SB 4. Under SB 4, 20 percent of these funds would be for efficient agricultural irrigation projects.

Federal bills of interest – U.S. House of Representatives.
There are several bills on the Federal level in committee right now.

These appear to be sound bills to promote efficient use of water. However, only 11 percent of House bills made it past committee and only 3 percent were enacted in 2011–2013. This means we need a louder voice to promote sound legislation for water. Below are a few of my favorites:

H.R. 123, Water Advanced Technologies for Efficient Resource Use Act of 2013: This bill establishes a WaterSense program to identify and promote water efficient products, buildings, landscapes, and services to reduce water use, conserve energy and preserve water. The most important part of this bill is it requires federal agencies to purchase water efficient products. It also creates a federal financial incentive for purchases of water efficient products. This could be very powerful.

H.R. 1616, Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act of 2013: This bill’s main goal is to improve energy and water efficiency by creating a new Supply Star program in the Energy Department. The goal is to improve energy and water efficiency, and to identify and promote practices and products that use efficient supply chains in a manner that conserves energy, water and other resources.

Federal bills of interest – U.S. Senate.
S 335, Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 2013: This bill makes loans available from the EPA for projects increasing efficient water use, water conservation, or water reuse.

As an industry we have the opportunity to influence water use with customers and legislation with lawmakers.

We are experiencing an increase in bills about water. Some are positive and some just don’t make sense to me. The good news is we have a voice, and the solution to the problem is not less law but accurate, meaningful legislation surrounding water. There are several things you can do to make yourself heard. Consider getting more active with the Irrigation Association, or PLANET.

The Irrigation Association has a Government and Regulatory Affairs committee as well as state coalitions focusing on state water laws. They are watching the bills and making an impact on their outcome. So the next time you get the urge to complain about your lawmakers, take the next step and instead of complaining, make a difference. L&L

The author is director, water management solutions at ValleyCrest Landscape Cos.

**This article is a partnership between the ValleyCrest Water Bloggers and Lawn & Landscape. Read more at  Email with questions and comments.