Interior of the Capitol Dome.

Monthly Congressional update

July 20, 2015
In spite of a White House veto threat, the House approved legislation on Thursday to provide relief to the most parched areas of drought-plagued California by increasing water flows through federal infrastructure.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In spite of a White House veto threat, the House approved legislation on Thursday, 7/16, to provide relief to the most parched areas of drought-plagued California by increasing water flows through federal infrastructure. The legislation is the Republican Party’s signature measure to confront California’s four-year-long drought and an attempt to fight back at Democratic policies that the GOP says prioritize fish over humans.

The bill would mandate certain volumes of water that the federal government must push through the Central Valley Project, a massive system of dams, reservoirs, aqueducts and other infrastructure built to take water from California’s wetter areas to its dryer ones. In doing so, it answers a common criticism of the Obama administration: that it is reducing water flows to protect endangered fish species that rely on the water, based on unfounded fears and bad scientific studies.

Democrats criticized the bill, saying it’s an attack on protections for endangered fish and wouldn’t really solve the drought, which they believe is caused or exacerbated by climate change. This bill was a major test for House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is tasked with balancing his leadership responsibilities while staying in touch his with agriculture-heavy district in the Central Valley. McCarthy jumped on the issue in part to ensure he won't face a similar fate as former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who lost his primary in a surprise defeat last summer that many blamed on failing to focus on the needs of his district.

Pool construction bans

City officials in Laguana Beach, CA, on Tuesday, 7/14, agreed to halt new pool construction for at least 45 days, with plans to reconsider the issue next month to make the ban stick until the state’s emergency drought declaration is lifted. The City Council’s unanimous vote makes Laguna Beach the first city in Southern California to put a moratorium on new pool construction.

City officials in Milpitas, a city between San Jose and Fremont, banned all new pool construction by passing an emergency ordinance in June. “We put a moratorium on all new pool construction until the drought is over,” Milpitas City Manager Tom Williams said. “If there are existing projects, we will allow them to go through.”

Williams said two applicants in the city so badly wanted to have pools that they proposed importing water from Washington or Colorado. Likely, the Milpitas City Council will reject that idea, he said.

Laguna Beach’s decision was part of a larger discussion on ways to conserve water. Councilwoman Toni Iseman said a measure like stopping construction of new swimming pools — which in some cases take as much as 30,000 gallons to fill — is the “patriotic duty” of residents during California’s historic drought.

News of the vote spread quickly Wednesday and has pool and spa officials upset. “We have sent letters to each council member and to the city manager, said Alex MacIlraith, a representative with the California Pool and Spa Association. “We’re very concerned. We haven’t seen another city we’re aware of that has passed a moratorium. People in the pool industry woke up Wednesday and suddenly learned they’re out of business.”

Iseman said it’s unconscionable for the city to allow new pool construction during the drought crisis. Building, but not filling, pools is not an option, she said, noting safety and health risks associated with empty or near-empty pools. Iseman points to countywide efforts already in place to prevent water pooling in evaporating swimming pools that can become breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

New landscape ordinance

The California Water Commission this week adopted a revised model landscape ordinance that requires yards and commercial landscapes installed in California after Dec. 1 to use up to a third less water on average.

The new model ordinance, developed by the California Department of Water Resources, limits lawns in commercial settings to uses such as recreation and public assembly, requires efficient sprinkler nozzles in landscape irrigation systems and, with some exceptions, bans turf in street medians and parkways.

Joe Byrne, chair of the CWC, said adoption of the ordinance “is an important step in ensuring that California’s future growth will respect the necessity to conserve the state’s water resources.” 

All told, the newly adopted ordinance is expected to reduce the water use of a new home by 12,000 gallons a year, or 20%. Water use on new commercial landscapes will be cut by approximately 35%, according to the DWR release. Changes from the previous model ordinance include reduction in the square footage above which landscape projects are subject to the ordinance. The threshold size was reduced from 2,500 square feet to 500 square feet for new residential, commercial, industrial and institutional projects. 

The average residential lot size in California is roughly 2,500 square feet. To encourage the reuse of water from sinks, tubs and washing machines called "graywater,” the model ordinance allows landscapes under 2,500 square feet that are irrigated only with graywater or captured rainwater to meet a simple irrigation checklist and not be subject to the entire ordinance.

California is expected to add 472,000 single- and multi-family housing units with an associated 20,000 acres of new landscape over the next three years. The state’s population is expected to grow by more than 11 million, reaching nearly 50 million people by 2050.  New landscape standards are critical to ensure that new plantings are as efficient as possible.

New York State adopts ban on fracking

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) undertook its final official step in imposing a total ban on gas drilling using fracking. This week’s action was a fait accompli following the announcement at the New York Governor’s cabinet meeting in late 2014 that New York would ban the drilling method. The Findings Statement released during the meeting based the total ban on unquantified public health risk and numerous statements of “possible” impacts.

New York is viewed as a water rich state with estimated fracking water usage projected to represent below 0.25 percent of water consumed in the state. While a large part of the DEC focused on lack of disposal options, it did not take into account recycling wastewater and out of state disposal options.

Proponents of fracking in New York are not entirely without hope as the ban will likely become subject of a legal challenge in the days ahead focused on the widespread use of fracking throughout the rest of the country, and the EPA’s recent study showing that fracking does not pose systemic risks to water quality. However, they remain concerned that this week’s Findings will be used bolster arguments elsewhere and could hinder attempts to increase the supply of natural gas to underserved parts of the state.

Net-Zero on a budget

The Washington Post on July 16th featured a story on an employee of one the IAPMO Group’s allies in Washington DC. This couple who bought a century-old fixer-upper on Capitol Hill are proving you don’t have to be rich to embark on a “net-zero” quest. Patrick Hughes and Amy Sticklor began their do-it-yourself approach in fall 2013, shortly after purchasing their first home in Washington’s Atlas District.

Simple updates in lighting, insulation and other equipments alone made it possible to run their entire 952-square-foot, two-bedroom home for several months of the year without exceeding the amount of energy produced by the solar array they had installed on their rooftop.

Hughes is director of government relations at the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA). He even managed to tie his home-improvement project to his job — using light bulbs, lighting sensors and solar energy equipment manufactured by NEMA members, and blogging about his efforts on the organization’s Web site.

This couple is part of a growing trend. One  quarter of all new single-family houses built in 2014 qualified as green, up from just 2 percent of the market in 2005, according to McGraw Hill Construction Dodge Forecast. The value of green single-family housing starts will reach as much as $80 billion by the end of 2016, more than 10 times its value in 2005. Nearly 80 percent of the builders who responded to McGraw Hill’s most recent green building survey said they expect it to be part of the standard services by 2018.

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