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Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance - FAQs

Frequently Asked Questions

  • My agency has never enacted a landscape ordinance. What are our options?
  • If my agency decides to adopt the Model Ordinance, what changes does my agency have to make in the Model Ordinance, if any, to adopt it as its own ordinance?
  • Several cities in our region want to get together and write a regional ordinance. Can we still do that?
  • We have landscape standards in place, but they have to do more with how many trees to plant per lot and weed abatement. How do we modify that into a water conservation ordinance?
  • Can we make our local ordinance more stringent?
  • Our local ordinance is already more rigorous than the Model Ordinance. Do we have to change it?
  • What about locations where the water purveyor has an ordinance?
  • How do we know our local ordinance is at least as effective?
  • Who will approve local agency compliance in the adoption of a water efficient landscape ordinance?
  • Who can design and sign the different plans required in the Model Ordinance?
  • The Model Ordinance does not provide any type of funding source for local agencies. Where would the funding come from?
  • My city's various departments don't communicate very well. How can the Model Ordinance change that?
  • The water purveyor and local agency in my area are separate agencies. How can they work together on this issue?
  • The statute says this Model Ordinance will not conflict with or duplicate the programs of a water purveyor. Why should we implement a landscape ordinance if the local water purveyors are already doing something?
  • Many sites in my city use groundwater from private wells. How does the Model Ordinance apply here?
  • My agency has to comply with many regulations regarding stormwater, waste diversion, water detention and infiltration. How can the Model Ordinance help with that?
  • Won't tiered rates solve the problem?
  • Which permits are required to make a landscape project subject to the Model Ordinance?
  • What is the difference between private development projects and developer-installed projects?
  • What is the applicability of developer installed single family homes in tract subdivisions?
  • We need sample forms to adapt for our use. Can DWR provide them?
  • What requirements apply to cemeteries?
  • Who gets penalized when the future water analyses and water audits fail to meet the design's original figures?
  • If a project fails an irrigation audit, what are the consequences?
  • If the local agency adopts the Model Ordinance as it is written; does the agency have to do a CEQA review as well?
  • Local agencies and water purveyors can't share customer information. How do we solve this problem?
  • 1. Q- My agency has never enacted a landscape ordinance. What are our options?
    A- There are several options available to a local agency. Choosing option #1 means a local agency will adopt the state Model Ordinance and make minor adjustments in the language that customizes the ordinance for that city or county. Option #2 is for those local agencies that choose to write and adopt an ordinance and is at least as effective as the Model Ordinance. Under this option, local agencies may collaborate and write and adopt a new regional ordinance that is at least as effective as the Model Ordinance. If an agency takes no action, the Model Ordinance shall apply and be enforced and has the same force and effect as if adopted by the local agency.

    2. Q- If my agency decides to adopt the Model Ordinance, what changes does my agency have to make in the Model Ordinance, if any, to adopt it as its own ordinance?
    A- DWR has developed a guideline (Model Ordinance Guideline for Option# 1) for the necessary changes to tailor the Model Ordinance into a local agency ordinance. See the link at the bottom of this page to locate the Model Ordinance Guideline for Option #1 on the DWR's Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance website.

    3. Q- Several cities in our region want to get together and write a regional ordinance. Can we still do that?
    A- Yes, regional ordinances (option #3) have the advantage of maintaining consistency within the region. The Model Ordinance is written for statewide use assuming typical conditions. A regional ordinance can address specific regional conditions such as special fire prevention requirements, groundwater or stormwater considerations, pest prevention and exclusion and general and specific plan requirements. A consistent set of rules to follow are advantageous for project applicants and landscape professionals who may work throughout a region.

    4. Q- We have landscape standards in place, but they have to do more with how many trees to plant per lot and weed abatement. How do we modify that into a water conservation ordinance?
    A- Perhaps the simplest course is to adopt the Model Ordinance (option # 1) and customize it for local application. The local agency then may incorporate some or all of the existing landscape standards into the water efficient ordinance. However, some landscape standards that were put in place to prevent certain negative impacts may no longer be appropriate. For example, a landscape standard that requires the planting of turf, only to meet the objective of weed abatement, may be changed to allow other lower water using plant material that will still meet the stated objective and comply with MAWA. In contrast, requiring a certain number of trees per lot or per acre is not required in the Model Ordinance, but it is a good standard to maintain, as increasing the number of trees in urban landscapes will provide multiple benefits including reducing urban heat islands. In any event, the ordinance must be at least as effective as the Model Ordinance.

    5. Q- Can we make our local ordinance more stringent?
    A- Yes, due to water supply conditions, climate and other factors, a local agency may make any provisions in its local ordinance more stringent than the Model Ordinance (option #2). The statute guided the update of the Model Ordinance to make it applicable statewide assuming typical conditions. A local ordinance may address specific regional concerns more effectively than the statewide Model Ordinance. For example, a local ordinance may further reduce the ET Adjustment Factor, limit turf grass area, use plant lists, or have specific fire prevention requirements. These will be determined by the local agency.

    6. Q- Our local ordinance is already more rigorous than the Model Ordinance. Do we have to change it?
    A- No. The statute requires local ordinances to be "at least as effective" as the Model Ordinance. If a local ordinance is already more rigorous than the Model Ordinance, the local agency may continue with that ordinance in place.

    7. Q- What about locations where the water purveyor has an ordinance?
    A- In locations where the water purveyor has assumed the responsibility of reviewing and approving proposed landscape projects, that relationship may continue so long as the existing ordinance used by the water purveyor is at least as effective as the Model Ordinance. If the existing ordinance used by either the local agency or water purveyor is considered to be less effective than the state Model Ordinance, the local agency and water purveyor must update the local ordinance to meet the standard.

    8. Q- How do we know our local ordinance is at least as effective?
    A- The statute requires the local agency to submit to DWR a copy of its local ordinance, their findings and evidence in the record that the local ordinance is at least as effective as the Model Ordinance. To make this determination, the local agency should evaluate the effectiveness of its local ordinance by asking questions such as these:

    • Is the ordinance applicable to all landscape categories identified in the applicability section of the Model Ordinance?
    • Will overspray and runoff be prohibited?
    • Will the plants be grouped in hydrozones?
    • Is recycled water use required where available?
    • Will opportunities for stormwater retention be taken advantage of?
    • Is mulch required where appropriate?
    • Will the soil be assessed and/ or amended prior to planting?
    • Is the most efficient and appropriate irrigation equipment required?
    • Does the irrigation design plan encourage or require the use of improved technology?
    • Is irrigation scheduling based on CIMIS or other reliable ETo data?
    • Does the ordinance have a Maximum Applied Water Allowance (MAWA) water budget based on ETAF of 0.7 for new and rehabilitated landscapes?
    • Is there a water budget that can support an average 0.5 plant factor palette without wasting or overusing water?
    • Do the audit and maintenance sections of the ordinance meet minimum requirements of the Model Ordinance?
    • Does the landscape documentation component comply with the ordinance requirements?
    • Are the mechanisms in place for compliance?
    9. Q- Who will approve local agency compliance in the adoption of a water efficient landscape ordinance?
    A- There is no approval process. The statute directs local agencies to report to DWR by, January 31, 2010 whether the local agency is subject to the state Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance or if not, submit a copy of the adopted local ordinance along with a copy of the local agency's findings and evidence in the record that its water efficient landscape ordinance is at least as effective as the department's updated Model Ordinance. This means that the local agency must decide either to adopt the Model Ordinance or adopt a locally derived ordinance that is at least as effective as the Model Ordinance. The department (DWR) must by January 31, 2011, report to the Legislature the status of adoption by local agencies. If the local agency has failed to comply with state law and adopt an ordinance that is clearly lacking or fails to adopt any ordinance, their lack of compliance may expose a local agency to legal action by any interested party.

    10. Q- Who can design and sign the different plans required in the Model Ordinance?
    A- Any landscape professional or practitioner either licensed or unlicensed by the State of California may sign a plan he or she designed as allowed by the Business and Profession Code. This may include, but not limited to Landscape Architects, Landscape Contractors, Landscape Designers and Irrigation Consultants. Personal property owners may design and sign plans for work on any property they own. The California Business and Profession Code may be located on the California Legislative Information webpage (www.leginfo.ca.gov). A Permitted Practice chart is available on the Landscape Architect Technical Committee web page (http://www.latc.ca.gov).

    11. Q-The Model Ordinance does not provide any type of funding source for local agencies. Where would the funding come from?
    A- Local agencies routinely charge fees for permits and / or plan check during design review and most design review is already in place with existing building codes.

    12. Q- My city's various departments don't communicate very well. How can the Model Ordinance change that?
    A-The Model Ordinance can't require various agencies or departments to cooperate, but in cases where they do communicate well, a water efficient landscape ordinance can be more effectively implemented. For example, in a city that is also a water provider, the planning department will be responsible for the design review and the water department has the ability to check the water budget calculations and track water use. The parks department may evaluate plant selection and irrigation design. Likewise, parks and public works can be more aware of the requirements for plants, irrigation and maintenance requirements in the ordinance that pertain to the maintenance of city or county properties. Opportunities to improve consistency between various city and county codes open up when the various departments cooperate.

    13. Q- The water purveyor and local agency in my area are separate agencies. How can they work together on this issue?
    A-The Model Ordinance encourages these agencies to work together. Water agencies are often in a better position to track water use and compare the water use against a budget determined for the site. Water agencies often have landscape water conservation programs in place that can complement and fulfill some of the requirements of a water efficient landscape ordinance used by a local planning agency. Some water purveyors have staff qualified to evaluate landscape plans, plant selection and irrigation design choices. Water purveyors often conduct surveys, audits and water use analyses. These efforts can help a local agency to comply with the requirements of the law, thus cooperation must be sought by the local agencies.

    14. Q- The statute says this Model Ordinance will not conflict with or duplicate the programs of a water purveyor. Why should we implement a landscape ordinance if the local water purveyors are already doing something?
    A- Although many water purveyors have programs that may fulfill some of the requirements of the Model Ordinance, most programs that water purveyors carry out are targeted at existing landscapes. This is also true of programs that water purveyors conduct to meet California Urban Water Conservation Council Signatory Best Management Practices (BMP). Best Management Practice 1 is the program for residential surveys at single family and multifamily housing with mixed-use water meters. Best Management Practice 5 is the large landscape (commercial, industrial, institutional and multi-family with dedicated landscape water meters) program for water conservation. These programs are complimentary to Section 493, Existing Landscapes; however, most of the provisions of the Model Ordinance are targeted primarily at new and rehabilitated landscapes. The objective of the Model Ordinance is to ensure that landscapes are designed, installed and maintained so that they begin operating as efficiently as possible. It is more cost effective to be efficient initially, than try to "fix" an under performing landscape at a later time.

    15. Q- Many sites in my city use groundwater from private wells. How does the Model Ordinance apply here?
    A- Water use is usually not tracked from private wells. However, the majority of the provisions of the Model Ordinance have to do with efficient design. A landscape should still be designed with a water budget in mind. For example, the MAWA and ETWU are based on landscape area; climate factors (ETo) and plants and is determined before any actual water is used. All provisions of the Model Ordinance still apply except for tracking of water use. The property owner is encouraged to install a meter to track water use from the well to conserve the wells capacity and conserve electricity used for pumping. The irrigation audit and maintenance requirements still apply and the local agency should consider these and other requirements in its programs.

    16. Q- My agency has to comply with many regulations regarding stormwater, waste diversion, water detention and infiltration. How can the Model Ordinance help with that?
    A- Good site design, efficient irrigation, careful plant selection and consistent maintenance can have a positive effect in helping to meet sustainability goals or comply with environmental protection regulations. Efficient landscapes that comply with a water efficient landscape ordinance can reduce negative impacts and offer multiple benefits to the community. These benefits may include:
    • Less greenwaste from excessive plant growth
    • Less air pollution from landscape maintenance equipment
    • Improved air quality from CO2 reduction by plants
    • Less non-point pollution and sedimentation in waterways
    • More shade and reduced cooling costs
    • Dry storm drains in summer that prevent mosquito infestations
    • Increased habitat for beneficial insects and birds
    • Less property damage to structures and pavement from overspray and runoff
    • Reduced liability to property owners form slippery pavement and flooded streets
    • Increased job opportunities for skilled landscape professionals
    17. Q- Won't tiered rates solve the problem?
    A-Local agencies that are not also water providers have no ability to institute tiered rates, which are set through the Public Utilities Commission. Tiered rates are a pricing strategy that rewards conservative water users and penalizes water over-users (depending on the rate structure). Tiered water rates will encourage careful water use by some customers, but others are simply willing to pay more or are unaware that they are paying more than they need to. In commercial and institutional situations, the water manager for the landscape is often unaware of the water use as reported on the bill because another employee or department pays the water bill. The goal of any water efficient landscape ordinance is to reduce water use and improve the efficiency of the water use. This can only be accomplished through appropriate landscape and irrigation designs, and regular maintenance. If a landscape is designed and installed in such a way that it is not able to meet the water budget, then a disservice has been provided to the property owner in that he or she will be forced to pay a penalty water rate in order to keep a non-compliant landscape alive.

    18. Q- Which permits are required to make a landscape project subject to the Model Ordinance?
    A- No specific permits are required. Any landscape project that meets the applicability requirements and goes through the design review process (requiring a building or landscape permit, plan check or design review) by a local agency is subject to the Model Ordinance (with a few exceptions listed in section 490.1 Applicability). Any landscape project over 2500 Sq. Ft. that is part of a new or rehabilitated non-residential private development (commercial and industrial, etc.) public development (parks, schools, etc.) or developer installed single and multi-family residential projects are subject to the Model Ordinance. Single family and multi-family residential (with homeowner provided landscaping) landscape projects over 5000 sq. ft. are subject to the provisions of the Model Ordinance. Construction or rehabilitation without a landscape component is not subject to the Model Ordinance.

    19. Q- What is the difference between private development projects and developer-installed projects?
    A- Developer installed projects refer to a type of private development project where the developer has installed the landscaping at single family and multi- family homes. This is often seen at tract subdivisions and master planned communities, condominium complexes, and with speculative real estate, etc. Developer installed residential landscapes and other private development projects (non-residential) have an applicability threshold of 2500sq.ft.of landscape area. This is in contrast with landscapes provided by the homeowner (either do-it-yourself or hired) which have an applicability threshold of 5000 sq. ft.

    20. Q- What is the applicability of developer installed single family homes in tract subdivisions?
    A- Pertains to tract development projects or master planned community projects for single family and multi-family residential units. The 2,500 square foot threshold refers to the total landscape area of a project. In order to conserve water, DWR determines that if a project (i.e., tract development) has a total landscape area, in aggregate, equal to or greater than 2,500 square foot, it is subject to the regulation.

    21. Q- We need sample forms to adapt for our use. Can DWR provide them?
    A- Yes, although local agencies are free to develop their own forms for use in the Landscape Documentation Package and Certificate of Completion, DWR will provide sample forms. These forms are available on the DWR Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance website. http://www.water.ca.gov/wateruseefficiency/landscapeordinance

    22. Q- What requirements apply to cemeteries?
    A- New and rehabilitated cemeteries are subject to sections 492.4 Water Efficient Worksheet (including a water budget), 492.11 Maintenance Schedules and 492.12 Audits, Surveys and Water Use Analysis. Existing cemeteries are subject to 493 Existing Landscapes, 493.1 Audits, Surveys and Water Use Analysis (including water budgets for metered sites) and 493.2 Water Waste Prevention. The local agency may determine which forms are completed by proponents of new and rehabilitated cemeteries as the local agency may require more information than is provided in the Water Efficient Worksheet.

    23. Q- Who gets penalized when the future water analyses and water audits fail to meet the design's original figures?
    A- The statute does not specify what, if any penalties shall be levied for a non-compliant landscape. During the review of the Landscape Documentation Package, the local agency will ensure that the landscape water audit demonstrates a well functioning irrigation system and that during the design review process, the local agency will verify that the provisions are followed with the idea that an efficient landscape will be installed. Furthermore, the local agency may deny approval of Certificate of Completion of the landscape. Water use analyses, and irrigation audits and surveys are intended to identify problems that will lead to corrections. They are not intended to merely penalize the property owner for excessive water use. These corrections may include repair, redesign of the irrigation system, re-evaluation of the irrigation schedule or scheduling parameters or repairing leaks. Beyond that, the course of action must be determined by the local agency and/ or the local water purveyor.

    24. Q- If a project fails an irrigation audit, what are the consequences?
    A- The local agency will require that the property owner and irrigation installer repair, redesign or otherwise institute the recommendations of the certified auditor to ensure the irrigation system functions efficiently. If the system does not function properly, it will not receive an approved Certificate of Completion.

    25. Q- If the local agency adopts the Model Ordinance as it is written; does the agency have to do a CEQA review as well?
    A- Local agencies must determine if a CEQA review for individual landscape projects is required.

    26. Q- Local agencies and water purveyors can't share customer information. How do we solve this problem?
    A- As part of the landscape documentation package, the project applicant must submit a copy of the Water Efficient Landscape Worksheet to the water purveyor. A request from the local agency and or the local water purveyor may be made of the project applicant for any other information pertaining to the landscape that the water purveyor may need to track water use against MAWA.