Legal Alerts Jul 22, 2015

California Department of Water Resources Adopts Update to the Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance

Cities and Counties Will be Required to Update their Existing Water Efficient Landscape Ordinances or Otherwise be Subject to the New Model Ordinance

California Department of Water Resources Adopts Update to the Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance

An updated Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance that establishes increases in water efficiency standards for new and retrofitted landscapes was approved by the California Water Commission. The updated Model Ordinance, approved last week, calls for more efficient irrigation systems, greywater usage and onsite storm water capture, as well as limits on the portion of landscapes that may be covered in turf.

The landscape restrictions in the updated Model Ordinance apply to any new construction project with an aggregate landscape area equal to or greater than 500 square feet and 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. In addition, all cities and counties are required to either adopt the updated the Model Ordinance or adopt a customized local water efficient landscape ordinance that is at least as effective in conserving water as the updated Model Ordinance by Dec. 1. If agencies do not take either of these actions, the Model Ordinance will automatically go into effect and apply.

As an alternative, the Model Ordinance encourages the adoption of regional water efficient landscape ordinances by two or more local agencies to implement a consistent set of landscape provisions throughout a geographical region. Local agencies that plan to adopt regional ordinances have until Feb. 1 to do so, or the Model Ordinance will automatically go into effect.

Cities and counties will also be required to report to the Department by Dec. 31 on the adoption of their updated ordinances. Agencies adopting a regional ordinance, however, are not required to report on the adoption of their new ordinances until March 1. All agencies would thereafter be required to comply with annual reporting requirements on the implementation and enforcement of their updated local water-efficient landscape ordinances.

In California, about half the urban water used is for landscape irrigation. Water waste is common in landscapes that are poorly designed or not well maintained. Water waste from runoff, overspray, low head drainage, leaks and excessive amounts of applied irrigation water in landscapes is prohibited by Section 2, Article X of the California Constitution. The State Legislature adopted the Water Conservation in Landscaping Act (California Government Code section 65591 et seq.) in 1990 to improve state water conservation efforts by reducing the waste associated with outdoor landscaping irrigation. The Act required the Department to develop a model ordinance to govern local landscape irrigation. The Act was amended in 2008 to require an update to the original Model Ordinance.

The current revisions to the Model Ordinance were made in response to Gov. Jerry Brown’s April 1 Executive Order declaring a statewide water shortage emergency. In addition to directing the State Water Resources Control Board to develop restrictions to achieve a 25 percent reduction in urban potable water use throughout California, the Executive Order called for the Department to update the Model Ordinance through expedited regulation.

If you have any questions about the proposed update to the Model Ordinance or how it may impact your agency, please contact the attorney author of this legal alert listed to the right in the firm’s Municipal Law practice group, or your BB&K attorney.

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