How Green is my Pasture?

March 22, 2010

Despite the importance of the topic, only two COWs came to speak to our Town COWncil about the implementation of the state-mandated water restrictions on landscaping during the recent COWncil meeting (you can watch on MOOtube here).

There are projections that water demand could exceed supply as early as 2015 unless drastic measures are taken. State legislation, effective January 1st of this year, requires that Californians reduce their water use by 20% by 2020 (the so-called 20×2020 Plan), and mandates that cities and counties adopt a “water efficient landscape” ordinance that is “at least as effective” in conserving water “ as the State model ordinance or the State model ordinance applies. Currently, since the Town does not yet have an ordinance, the State rules apply. Town Manager Susan George claimed that very few other local governments have passed ordinances yet but it does not appear that the State requirements are being enforced.

If we are to have rules that are tailored for Woodside, we need a local ordinance. Staff determined that reforming our landscape ordinances was the first priority due to the greater amounts of water used in landscaping. However, the Town will also need to adopt indoor water conservation measures. There are two approaches to the landscape water conservation ordinance floating around local governments – the State model and a model known as the BAWSCA standard (for the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency, an association of more than twenty Bay Area water districts, including Cal Water which supplies most of Woodside.

From what we can gather the State version is oriented to more urban environments and according to Susan, she had gone through the State formula “several times” and “got lost every time.” The BAWSCA version is likely to be adopted by our neighbors including Atherton and Portola Valley. Staff thinks it will be easier for contractors and other professionals to have a common standard in our region. Additionally, the project application process is easier to understand and implement for homeowners and professionals, and easier for Town staff to process. A good comparison of the two was provided by Sunnyvale
and Foster City.

The ordinance applies to all properties with landscapes over one acre in size, even if installed before enactment of this legislation. It required compliance with requirements for irrigation audits, water use analysis and maintenance of techniques to prevent water waste and runoff. A menu of methodologies is provided. An extremely important point was raised during the meeting about compliance with the new ordinance. COWncilmember Taner asked, “[Are we going to] tell people to rip out new landscaping if they buy a new house [in Woodside]?” Susan George responded that the Town was NOT going to go out and look at current properties to enforce implementation, but rather instead enforce gradual compliance as people came into pull permits for other projects. As COWncilmember Taner pointed out, however, landscape projects alone often don’t require permits in this Town and he alluded to the fact that many people don’t get the proper permits for work they’re doing anyway, to which Town Manager George said she “wasn’t going to comment on that.” She did say that it was likely that homeowners will have to begin having water budgets, and possibly rip out turf as it is such a water hog. She claimed that the water pressures are going to get worse.

The COWncil eventually indicated to staff to draw up an ordinance based on the BAWSCA model, and it will come back to the COWncil in a month or two. The COWncil, lead by Mayor Burow, also expressed strong support for adding language giving credits for graywater and blackwater systems, rainwater catchment, and other water-saving and reusing technologies, to put some flexibility into the system. It was pointed out that these technologies may be prohibited by the County at the current time, but that doing this would give people some breathing room if graywater systems became legal in our County in the future.

Other possibilities raised on this issue included the definite future proposal of indoor water restrictions, how permeability restrictions will affect landscaping, the inevitability of new fees to cover Town inspections / plan check on water plans, and the possibility of “smart meters” on water. This will be coming back to COWncil soon, so it’s not too late to have your say.
Stay tuned – we definitely will!

To read the draft State and BAWSCA ordinances, look here, starting on page 44. You can also find them here on this website and here .

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