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County Adopts Water-Efficient Landscaping Regulations


SANTA CLARA COUNTY, CALIF. – This week, the County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors adopted the Water Conservation in Landscaping Ordinance, which will implement Assembly Bill 1881: The California Water Conservation in Landscaping Act. The purpose of the ordinance is to reduce water waste in Santa Clara County by promoting the use of region-appropriate plants that require minimal supplemental irrigation, and by establishing standards for irrigation efficiency. This ordinance will apply to the unincorporated areas of the county.

“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.”

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 was intended to provide for consistent ordinances adapted to local conditions and water supply challenges.

“The County’s Water Conservation in Landscaping Ordinance is tailored to our regional climate, topography and development patterns,” said Jody Hall Esser, Director of the County of Santa Clara Office of Planning and Development. “Projects are also subject to different requirements depending on the size and type of the development.”

The ordinance applies to new and rebuilt 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 that are over 5,000 square feet, permit applicants will need to submit a landscape and irrigation design plan prepared by State-licensed landscape architect or contractors. For projects less than 5,000 square feet, permit 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 square feet;
  • All portions of turf areas shall be wider than eight feet;
  • Plants with similar water needs shall be grouped within hydro-zones. Irrigation for each hydro-zone shall be controlled by a separate valve;
  • Low-volume irrigation shall be utilized in non-turf areas;
  • Overhead irrigation shall only occur between 8pm and 10am;
  • 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, over 50 percent of residential water use takes place outdoors. It is also estimated that residents over-irrigate outdoor plants and lawn by as much as 60 percent.

“Water efficient landscapes translate into significant water savings,” said Supervisor Liz Kniss, Vice Chair of the Board’s Housing, Land Use, Environment and Transportation Committee. “This ordinance will help the County adjust water conservation goals to better accommodate local water supply and demands now and in the future.”

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

The California Water Conservation in Landscaping Act of 2006 (AB 1881) 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.

Media Contact: Gwendolyn Mitchell/Lingxia Meng, Office of Public Affairs, (408) 299-5119; Jody Hall Esser, Planning and Development Office (408) 299-6741
Posted: December 15, 2010