Green Pastures

January 21, 2013

The Town COWncil recently conducted a study session on potential amendments to the Municipal Code that would address restrictions in water use for landscaping. California Assembly Bill 1881 (passed in 2006) requires that local governments adopt a “water efficient landscape ordinance”. The COWncil can either take the State’s model ordinance or develop their own. the Town has been applying the State’s Model Ordinance since January 2010, when the State required compliance. The new ordinance would take the place of those rules. The goal of the Bill was to assure that all California towns and cities require water conservation measures to landscaping. Given that much of the State is a desert and that even the wetter parts are plagued by recurring droughts, plus California’s ever exploding population, water conservation is essential.

The COWncil has now decided to move forward with an ordinance based on language drafted by BAWSCA (Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency), a regional grouping of 24 water agencies that includes the California Water Service Company. BAWSCA’s language was considered to be more tailored to our local issues and concerns than the State model ordinance, as well as easier for homeowners and contractors to use and understand. Neighboring cow-munities like Portola Valley, Hillsborough, Palo Alto and others have adopted the BAWSCA rules.

All new construction and rehabilitated landscapes with irrigated landscape areas of 1,000 square feet or more square feet requiring a building or landscape permit, plan check or design review, or requiring new or expanded water service is subject to the requirements of the ordinance or put another way; new construction and rehabilitated landscapes with irrigated landscape areas less than 1,000 square feet or that do not require a building or landscape permit, plan check or design review, or new or expanded water service are not included. Neither are landscapes or portions of landscapes that are only irrigated for an establishment period.

Existing landscapes are only be subject to the ordinance if the landscape area is over one acre. “Landscape area” means all the planting areas, turf areas, and water features in a landscape design plan subject to the Maximum Applied Water Allowance calculation. The landscape area does not include footprints of buildings or structures, sidewalks, driveways, parking lots, decks, patios, gravel or stone walks, other pervious or non-pervious hardscapes, other non-irrigated areas designated for non-development.

Under the proposed rules, applicants can agree to planting restrictions that limit turf to 25% or less of the landscape area and requires that 80% or more of the non-turf plants be native, low-water or no-water using plants. Alternatively, they can submit Water Budget Calculations for their project, a more complicated process.

The Town COWncil expressed interest in amending the base BAWSCA ordinance by providing graywater and rainwater collection credits (as well as blackwater collection in some very limited circumstances). Staff proposes that homeowners be exempted from the ordinance requirements if a site’s graywater and rainwater collection exceed the site’s landscaping irrigation needs. Such an irrigation system couldn’t be connected at all to a freshwater system, but only to a site’s graywater and rainwater collection system.

The Town COWncil discussed the new ordinance proposal in detail, with COWncilmember Shanahan seeming aggrieved about the whole process, at first complaining about BAWSCA forcing the Town to change its water rules. When it was explained that in fact it was the State that had created the need to change the rules, and that the BAWSCA model was better for the Town, he railed against the State’s unfunded mandates and the cost to homeowners and the Town. Town Manager Kevin Bryant said that the best, most low-cost way to deal with the whole issue was to go ahead and adopt an ordinance based on the BAWSCA model and be done with it, that it would be easier for residents and the Town to comply with.

After getting COWncil input, the proposal went back to Staff for fine-tuning. It will definitely be coming back this year for adoption.

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