Brown is the New Green the Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance in California

Thu Jul 30th, On Environmental Law, by

Today, it was announced that water use in California fell by 27 percent in June. The State Water Resources Control Board shows 265 out of 411 local agencies hit or nearly reached savings targets while serving 27 million Californians. Governor Brown previously ordered an overall 25 percent reduction in urban water use compared to 2013 levels. His administration gave each community nine months to hit assigned conservation targets as high as 36 percent. The areas that did not come close to meeting their saving targets will be told to ramp up water waste enforcement or limit the number of days residents can water lawns. For water wasters, there are significant penalties. Agencies issued more than 9,500 penalties in June.

About half of urban water in California is used for landscape irrigation. To improve water savings in this sector, Governor Brown issued Executive Order No. B-29-50. Pursuant to that order, the Department of Water Resources issued an update to its 2010 Draft Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance to the California Water Commission (Model Ordinance). The Model Ordinance promotes efficient landscapes in new developments and retrofitted landscapes. The reporting obligations (of the local agencies) begin December 1, 2015. All other requirements become effective February 1, 2016.

The Model Ordinance applies to:
(1) new development projects with an aggregate landscape area equal to or greater than 500 square feet requiring a building or landscape permit, plan check or design review;
(2) rehabilitated landscape projects with an aggregate landscape area equal to or greater than 2,500 square feet requiring a building or landscape permit, plan check, or design review;
(3) existing landscapes limited to Sections 493, 493.1 and 493.2; and
(4) (5) cemeteries. Recognizing the special landscape management needs of cemeteries, new and rehabilitated cemeteries are limited to Sections 492.4, 492.11 and 492.12; and existing cemeteries are limited to Sections 493, 493.1 and 493.2.

The burden of this ordinance lies on the shoulders of the local cities and counties, which are required to enact local ordinances consistent with the Model Ordinance, or adopt the Model Ordinance (tailored if necessary), or collaborate with other cities and counties in the region and adopt regional ordinances. If a local agency (city/county) has a water plan already in place, it must assess the plan to be sure it is consistent with the Model Ordinance:
• Is the ordinance applicable to all landscape categories identified in the applicability section of the Model Ordinance?
• Will overspray and runoff be prohibited?
• Will the plants be grouped in hydrozones?
• Is recycled water use required where available?
• Will opportunities for stormwater retention be taken advantage of?
• Is mulch required where appropriate?
• Will the soil be assessed and/ or amended prior to planting?
• Is the most efficient and appropriate irrigation equipment required?
• Does the irrigation design plan encourage or require the use of improved technology?
• Is irrigation scheduling based on CIMIS or other reliable ETo data?
• Does the ordinance have a Maximum Applied Water Allowance (MAWA) water budget based on ETAF of 0.7 for new and    rehabilitated landscapes?
• Is there a water budget that can support an average 0.5 plant factor palette without wasting or overusing water?
• Do the audit and maintenance sections of the ordinance meet minimum requirements of the Model Ordinance?
• Does the landscape documentation component comply with the ordinance requirements?
• Are the mechanisms in place for compliance?

Businesses, real estate developers, and homeowners also will be affected by the ordinance when they seek approval for new or rehabilitated landscape projects beginning in February 1, 2016. The process, at a minimum, could prove to delay construction waiting for local agency approvals of the various design packages that are now required.

Prior to any new or rehabilitated landscape construction, a local agency is required to:
(1) provide the project applicant with the ordinance and procedures for permits, plan checks, or design reviews;
(2) review the Landscape Documentation Package submitted by the project applicant;
(3) approve or deny the Landscape Documentation Package;
(4) issue a permit or approve the plan check or design review for the project applicant; and
(5) upon approval of the Landscape Documentation Package, submit a copy of the Water Efficient Landscape Worksheet to the local water purveyor.

The Water Efficient Landscape Worksheet contains information on the plant factor, irrigation method, irrigation efficiency, and area associated with each hydrozone. Calculations are then required to show that the evapotranspiration adjustment factor (ETAF) for the landscape project does not exceed a factor of 0.55 for residential areas and 0.45 for non- residential areas, exclusive of Special Landscape Areas. The ETAF for new and existing (non-rehabilitated) Special Landscape Areas shall not exceed 1.0.

Stormwater best management practices will be encouraged to minimize runoff and increase infiltration, which recharges groundwater and improves water quality. Local agencies and the Regional Water Quality Control Board in the area will provide information upon request for applicable ordinances and stormwater management plans.
 In addition, all planted landscape areas are required to have friable soil to maximize water retention and infiltration and it is strongly recommended that landscape areas be designed for capture and infiltration capacity that is sufficient to prevent runoff from impervious surfaces (i.e. roof and paved areas) from either: the one inch, 24-hour rain event or (2) the 85th percentile, 24-hour rain event, and/or additional capacity as required by any applicable local, regional, state or federal regulation.

It may be necessary for local agencies to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act for new projects.

For existing landscapes over one acre (not rehabilitated), local agencies may require irrigation water use analyses, irrigation surveys, and irrigation audits to evaluate water use and provide recommendations to reduce water use to a level that does not exceed the Maximum Applied Water Allowance for existing landscapes.

The model ordinance does not apply to:
(1) registered local, state or federal historical sites;
(2) ecological restoration projects that do not require a permanent irrigation system;
(3) mined-land reclamation projects that do not require a permanent irrigation system; or
(4) existing plant collections, as part of botanical gardens and arboretums open to the public.

Where private wells are used, the DWR asks that the property owner install a meter to track water use from the well to conserve the wells capacity and conserve electricity used for pumping. The irrigation audit and maintenance requirements still apply and the local agency should consider these and other requirements in its programs.

The Ordinance was approved at the public DWR meeting on July 15, 2015.

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