Get ready for stricter rules for landscape watering

Posted on November 4, 2015 by Sonoma Valley Sun

I recently attended a workshop about the 2015 revisions to California’s Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance (WELO) and it’s clear that water budgeting is getting stricter and irrigation efficiency requirements are getting higher.

The aim of changes to WELO: 1) conserve water by reducing turf and high water use plants; 2) make our irrigation systems more efficient; 3) increase on-site storm-water capture; 4) encourage graywater use; and, 5) require water efficiency reporting and ordinance enforcement by local agencies.

This revised ordinance goes into effect December 1, 2015 for local agencies and February 1, 2016 for local agencies developing a regional ordinance.

The threshold for residential, commercial, industrial and institutional landscapes covered by the ordinance has been decreased from 2,500 to 500 square feet of irrigated land. This square footage also includes swimming pools and water features. At this point the ordinance only applies to projects that require permits or plan checks by local municipalities.

Here are some of the new and improved requirements for landscape plans:

  • In order to make the soil better able to absorb water and reduce compaction four yards of compost must be mixed into every 1,000 square feet of permeable area.
  • Mulch must now be applied three inches thick (rather than two inches in the past).
  • Any graywater and rain water catchment/retention elements must be delineated on the plan.

For irrigation plans there are even more changes:

  • Residential landscapes over 5,000 square feet and commercial landscapes over 1,000 square feet must have a dedicated sub meter or meter.
  • Multi-unit lots will require soil testing so that irrigation water application is appropriate for water absorption capabilities of the soil.
  • Pressure regulators will be required if the water pressure is lower or higher than the manufacturers recommendations.
  • Irrigation devices that emit water will have to meet certain national standards.
  • Flow sensors can detect if there are leaks in the irrigation system. These will be required for areas larger than 5, 000 square feet.
  • If the width of an irrigated area is less than 8 feet (down from 10) and it abuts a hardscape area it must have sub-surface drip to eliminate the risk of overspray and runoff. Irrigation auditors must be from a local agency or a third party auditor.

This is a high level summary of what I learned from the presenters at this workshop who were from the California Department of Public Works, Bay Friendly Landscaping and Gardening Coalition, Marin Municipal Water District, Hunter Industries and the Urban Farmer Store. More to come.

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