Seeking to conserve water and comply with a new state law, Palo Alto officials are considering adopting stricter regulations for watering local landscapes.
The proposed revisions were prompted by a California law that requires cities to adopt regulations that reduce water consumptions. Assembly Bill 1881, which was passed in 2006, directed the Department of Water Resources to develop a "Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance." The ordinance, which was completed in September 2009, requires developers to create water budgets and get permits, plan checks or design reviews for landscaping projects.
The Model Ordinance applies to newly constructed or rehabilitated projects in a landscape area of equal to or greater than 2,500 square feet.
Under the state law, all cities automatically adopt this ordinance on Jan. 1 unless their water district comes up with its own regulations for conserving water on landscaping.
Tonight (Wednesday, Jan. 6), Palo Alto's Utilities Advisory Commission is scheduled do discuss a proposed ordinance that would create even more stringent standards than in the state proposal.
The ordinance, crafted by the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency (BAWSCA), would require at least 80 percent of the plants in non-turf areas to be "native plants, low-water using plants, or non-water using plants," unless the applicant creates a water budget.
The efficiency standards in the BAWSCA ordinance would apply to new landscapes that are greater than 1,000 square feet. Landscapes that are greater than 2,500 square feet will require certification by a professional.
Asher Waldfogel, vice chair of the Utilities Advisory Commission, said he's still studying the proposed ordinance. But Waldfogel said he is concerned about the proposed ordinance making things too onerous for home builders.
His biggest concern, he said, is that it places new water-efficiency standards for new and rehabilitated projects without requiring anything from the majority of the city's residents. Though he acknowledged that under state law the city would have to adopt new efficiency standards, he said it's not clear whether those proposed by BAWSCA would necessarily net the best results.
"We have to do something and I certainly support doing what we have to under state law," Waldfogel said. "The question is, 'Would something that's less dramatic and includes more people achieve the same effect?'"
The city, meanwhile, released a statement saying that other proposed changes "may include restrictions on outdoor watering times for all customers, dedicated irrigation meters for certain projects, and stronger water waste prohibitions."
"Recreational sports playing fields and parks may also have to adhere to a water budget."
The utilities commission will have at least two meetings on the proposed efficiency standards before issuing its recommendation in February. The Jan. 6 meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 250 Hamilton Ave.