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December 31, 2010 > County adopts water-efficient landscaping regulations

County adopts water-efficient landscaping regulations

Submitted By Gwendolyn Mitchell and Lingxia Meng

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors has adopted a Water Conservation in Landscaping Ordinance which will implement Assembly Bill (AB) 1881, The California Water Conservation in Landscaping Act. This ordinance which applies to the unincorporated areas of the county, promotes the use of region-appropriate plants that require minimal supplemental irrigation and establishes standards for irrigation efficiency.

"The ordinance represents the successful collaboration between the County and local stakeholders," said Supervisor Mike Wasserman, Chair of the Board's Housing, Land Use, Environment and Transportation Committee. "Water conservation is an important element in the County's overall sustainability efforts and this ordinance helps to engage residents in the stewardship of this importance resource."

AB 1881 (2006) mandates water conservation in new landscaping projects, in particular, single-family projects. Senate Bill 7 (2009 Water Conservation Act) requires water providers to increase water-use efficiency in specific ways, including a per-capita reduction of urban water use by 20 percent over the coming decade.

Since August 2009, the County's Office of Planning and Development has worked with local planning and conservation representatives and water providers to develop two regionally adapted versions to the State's Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance. This collaboration provides for consistent ordinances adapted to local conditions and water supply challenges.

The ordinance applies to new and re-built single-family and two-family projects. Any major work for commercial, industrial, institutional, office or multi-family projects also will be subject to the Ordinance.

For landscape areas greater than 5,000 sq. ft., permit applicants must submit a landscape and irrigation design plan prepared by a State-licensed landscape architect or contractor. For projects less than 5,000 sq. ft., applicants only need to submit a Landscape Water-Efficiency Checklist which includes the following requirements: at least 50 percent of the plants and trees shall be native or low-water use; total turf area shall not exceed 25 percent of the landscape area, or 1,250 sq. ft.; all portions of turf areas shall be wider than eight ft.; plants with similar water needs shall be grouped within hydro-zones with irrigation for each hydro-zone controlled by a separate valve; low-volume irrigation shall be utilized in non-turf areas; overhead irrigation shall only occur between 8 p.m. and 10 a.m.; a minimum 8 inches of non-compacted topsoil; use of compost or fertilizer according to soil conditions; and a minimum two-inch layer of mulch shall be applied on exposed soil surfaces.

According to the Association of California Water Agencies, more than 50 percent of residential water use occurs outdoors. It also estimates residents over-irrigate outdoor plants and lawns by as much as 60 percent.

The second reading of the Ordinance is scheduled for January 11, 2011. Should it pass, the ordinance will become effective in February 2011.

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