The State of California has taken another step in water conservation, adopting a stricter landscape ordinance that includes lowering the size threshold for projects that fall under the new water efficiency provisions.
As of Dec. 1, the size of landscapes subject to the ordinance has been lowered from 2500 sq. ft. to 500 sq. ft. The size threshold applies to residential, commercial, industrial and institutional projects that require a permit, plan check or design review.
The ordinance also lowers the maximum water allowance from 70 percent of the reference evapotranspiration (total amount of water used through evaporation and plant transpiration) to 55 percent for residential projects and 45 percent for non-residential projects.
According to City of Turlock Senior Planner Katie Quintero, most commercial and industrial projects that come to the City already hire landscape architects to make sure plans are compliant with State water restrictions.
"The bigger impacts we're anticipating is someone coming in to build a custom home more than 500 sq. ft. will now be subject to this ordinance," said Quintero.
This water allowance reduction will result in fewer high water plants, such as turf, being used in new construction projects, said Quintero.
"They'll have to be more aware of the types of plants they're using, and types of sprinklers they're using," she said.
Other changes to the ordinance include:
• Prior to planting, four yards of compost must be incorporated per 1,000 sq. ft. of permeable area. Compacted soils must be transformed to a friable condition. The depth of mulch required was increased from 2 to 3 inches. Graywater and storm retention components must be indicated on the landscape plan.
• For multi-lot projects, soil testing should be completed using a soil sampling rate of approximately 1 in 7 lots or 15 percent.
• Dedicated landscape water meters or submeters are required for residential landscapes over 5,000 square feet and non-residential landscapes over 1,000 square feet.
• Irrigation systems are required to have pressure regulation to ensure correct and efficient operation.
• Flow sensors that detect and report high flow conditions due to broken pipes and/or popped sprinkler heads are required for landscape areas greater than 5,000 square feet. Master shut-off valves that prevent water waste in case of large failures of irrigation systems due to breakage or vandalism are required on all landscapes except where sprinklers can be individually controlled.
• The minimum width of areas that can be overhead irrigated was increased from 8 feet to 10 feet; areas less than 10 feet wide must be irrigated with subsurface drip or other technology that produces no over spray or runoff.
• Irrigation auditors must be a local agency auditor or third party auditor to reduce conflicts of interest.
• Landscape area must have friable soil to maximize stormwater infiltration.
The updated Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance also requires quite a bit more reporting on the City's part. The City of Turlock will have to report annually on:
• Number and types of projects subject to the ordinance.
• Total area (in square feet or acres) subject to the ordinance.
• Number of new housing starts, new commercial projects, and landscape retrofits.
• The procedure for review of projects subject to the ordinance.
• The actions taken to verify compliance.
• Enforcement measures.
• The challenges to implementing and enforcing the ordinance
• The educational, training, and other needs to properly apply the ordinance.
Quintero said the City is working on putting together an information handout about the updates to the Landscape Ordinance.