The Recommendations Report to the Legislature on Landscape waater Use Efficiency by an Independent Technical Panel on Demand Management Measures was presented to the California legislature in May. The document – a consensus of industry, regulatory, higher-education and non-profit stakeholders and experts – developed a list of bold policy ideas to advance in California as the state grapples with the realities of matching water use with limited supply in an arid climate.
The ideas put forward reshuffle business as usual focusing on making outdoor water use work within the existing climate and watershed. To deal with extreme drought in the recent past, the state implemented restrictive policies, calling for 25% across-the-board water use reductions and replacing 50 million sq. ft. of lawn and ornamental turf with water-efficient landscapes in underserved communities; use of graywater for landscapes; limiting the allowable area covered by turf; and requiring local governments to enforce water-efficiency ordinances. These policies are prelude to the water-efficient urban landscape the report envisions.
Seven framing topics emerged:
- Model Water Efficiency Landscape Ordinance (MWELO), Codes and Standards
- Overarching Goals for State Water Use
- Plant Labeling and Identification of High Water Use Plant Material
- Public Perceptions and Social Norms
- Research Needs and Support
- Workforce Education and Certification
The report acknowledges that “functional and attractive landscapes are essential to our quality of life, providing places to recreate and relax, cooling the environment around buildings, offering wildlife habitat and creating places of beauty.”
The Panel recommends that California reduces potable water use on the urban landscape by 50% over the coming 20 years. They assert that attaining that goal will come from three sources:
- Replacing 140,000 acres of turf with water-wise plants (saves 800,000 acre ft. of water);
- Improving irrigation equipment, plant selection, soil health and rainwater catchment at existing residential and commercial landscapes (saves 800,000 acre ft. of water); and
- Strengthen landscape water use standards for new landscaping per the “Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance.”
What’s the baseline for landscape water use? According to the California Water Plan 2013 Update, outdoor water use on residential landscapes and large landscapes was estimated at about 4 million acre ft. a year, or 44% of all urban water use prior to state mandated cuts.
Among the panel’s recommendations:
- Tax credits for residential ($1/sq. ft./$1,500 cap) and commercial property ($0.50/sq. ft./$20,000 per property cap) to replace high water use landscapes with sustainable landscapes. The incentive would be tied to requirements for which landscapes are eligible and what types of landscape features are allowed.
- Mandate evaluation of irrigation systems as part of home inspections for single-family residential properties, which would capture the estimated 400,000 homes that are sold annually in California.
- Implement mandatory water efficiency on landscapes covering more than 1 acre.
- Implement sustainable, water-efficient landscapes on public properties.
- Align the State’s Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance with the California Green Building Standards Code. Including new minimum standards for rainwater retention and covering major building renovation. The panel recommends finding a path for all landscapes to comply.
- Require a permit for irrigation installation.
- Label living plant material by water use at point of sale.
- Require certification and continuing water-efficient landscaping education for all businesses that design, install, maintain or audit landscape irrigation systems.
- Revise materials for the California Landscape Contractors license to include information and questions on sustainable landscapes and water efficiency.
Achieving a New Normal in California Landscapes, a watershed-based approach to urban landscapes by the California Urban Water Conservation Council.
NewTerrain August 29, 2016.