Proposed California Water Regulations Target Landscape

The California Department of Water Resources has proposed changes to the state’s existing landscape ordinance that would prohibit the installation of grass at most new residential or commercial properties. According to the new rule, the size threshold for landscapes would be reduced to 500 feet for both types of properties.

New California yards and commercial landscaping would use far less water under the rules of a model landscape ordinance updated by the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) at the direction of Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr.

The updated draft rules would prohibit installation of turf unless it is used for a specific function such as sports fields or gathering areas, require the installation of efficient sprinkler nozzles, ban turf in street medians and parkways. Turn will be allowed in a median strip or parkway when he parkway is next to a parking strip and a flat surface is required to enter and exit vehicles.

“About half of California’s urban water is used on landscaping,” said DWR Director Mark Cowin.  “We can gain a lot of water savings year after year with smart landscape design, installation and maintenance.”

DWR has also included a proposed provision that would encourage the installation of gray water systems to provide on-site landscape irrigation water. Another provision would require friable soil in landscape areas to maximize water retention and infiltration, and would encourage the use of on-site storm water retention practices.

The revised ordinance also requires the application and incorporation to 6 inches deep of 4 yards of compost per 1000 sq. ft. of area planted to turf. This addition of organic matter and tillage increases the ability of soil to capture and hold stormwater.

In all, DWR’s draft revisions to the landscape ordinance are expected to reduce the water use of a new home by 16,000 gallons a year, or 30 percent.  Water use on new commercial landscapes would be cut by approximately 40 percent under the draft rules proposed by DWR.

During the development process, DWR consulted with a number of stakeholders including the Irrigation Association, California Landscape Contractors Association, and the California Urban Water Conservation Council.

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.  According to DWR, “New landscape standards are critical to ensure that new plantings are as efficient as possible.”

In an April 1 executive order, the Governor directed DWR to update its State Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance in order to help California cope with a fourth year of extreme drought and build resiliency for future droughts.

State law requires all land-use agencies, such as cities and counties, to adopt a water-efficient landscape ordinance that is at least as efficient as the model ordinance prepared by DWR.  DWR’s model ordinance takes effect in those cities and counties that fail to adopt their own.

The draft revisions to the model ordinance reduce the size threshold for landscapes subject to the ordinance to 500 square feet for both commercial and residential property.  Land-use agencies also would be required to report on ordinance adoption and enforcement each year.

DWR held a hearing on Tuesday in Los Angeles to receive public comment about the proposed changes and will hold a hearing today in Sacramento for the same purpose:

June 19, 2015 10:00 A.M. – 12:00 P.M. Resources Building Auditorium, 1416 9th Street, 1st Floor, Sacramento, CA 95814

To join this meeting, click here.

Call-in toll-free number: 1-877-952-3588 Attendee access code: 590 225 6


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