Justin White, Landscaping Lessons | Water restrictions increase in California – Santa Cruz Sentinel

It seems like headlines about the 2022 drought show up daily. Many include information about water restrictions, challenges the state faces and federal water allocations, but very few provide tools to help reduce your water usage. In this Landscaping Lesson I will be talking about the most recent water board meeting where it was decided to move forward with a ban on decorative turf. While I will elaborate on that decision, I will also do my best to give you advice on how to you can reduce your outdoor water use starting today.

First, I’d like to thank everyone who reads Landscaping Lessons. What started out as a communication tool during COVID-19, has turned into a passionate way to share what I do every day in my role as CEO of K&D Landscaping. I will be taking some time away from the typewriter this summer to focus on building our newest division, “Water Management.”

Let’s quickly unpack where we stand with the decorative turf ban, who it affects and how we got here. In July of 2021, Gov. Newsom declared a drought emergency and asked everyone in California to reduce their water use by 15%. However, the most recent data shows only a slight decrease of 3.7% as compared to the same time period the year prior. In response on March 28, the governor signed an executive order requiring agencies to develop a plan within the next two months to reduce urban water consumption. On May 24, the State Water Board adopted an emergency water conservation regulation.

This includes the following measures to be taken:

A ban on all decorative turf in commercial, industrial and multi-family facilities. The ban does not cover water to maintain trees, watering turf used for recreation or other community events or watering turf within single family residences.

All local agencies are required to implement conservations action under level 2 of their water shortage contingency plan (WSCP). All water districts in California were required to develop a (WSCP) by 2020 which includes levels of drought restrictions. They all follow a similar template but are a bit different based on local water availability. I suggest checking your district’s website for their plan.

Other restrictions can vary based on district and their specific level 2 response. A few are: limiting outdoor irrigation to certain hours or days, increasing patrol of water waste and issuing of fines, enforcing water-use prohibitions (such as bans on turf), increase outreach and communication with rate payers/community.

The biggest headline is that if you have a commercial, industrial or multi-family community such as an HOA with decorative turf, you need to develop a plan. I’ve included a list of FAQs to shuffle through so you can organize what turf will be watered and which area should not. The regulation has been submitted to the Office of Administration Law for approval and I expect full approval by June 10.

Additionally, fines start at $500 and are an infraction under the civil code.

A few questions I have recently received from clients:

What is functional turf?

Functional areas are where kids play, soccer fields, parks, or where community events are held. The community turf area where you regularly have events or kids play would be functional. Other examples include golf courses, football fields, and places where people gather.

What is a non-functional area?

These are lawns where no one goes, plays, or uses the turf. This includes large greenbelt areas between streets, sidewalk strips, planters around buildings, parking lot planters, and other areas where turf is, but people are not.

What about my trees?

If you have a tree in your lawn area that is well established, then you most likely do not need to provide that tree with much supplemental water and you should shut the water to your lawn down.

If you have a small tree, newly planted tree or a delicate variety tree that requires supplemental water, you can continue to water your lawn but only to ensure a healthy tree.

It is important to understand your tree because even large Redwood trees can become dependent on your regular lawn watering schedule.

What should I do if I have non-functional turf areas that are in key locations such as a building entrance or high-visibility area?

Now is the best time to dig in and remove those lawns. This new ban could lead to many properties looking run-down and abandoned. Remember all the painted lawns in 2015? Let’s not do that again… Instead, remove the lawn and install drought tolerant planting. By utilizing cobble, boulders, trees, shrubs, plants and groundcover, you can recreate amazing natural settings right on your property. Lawns can be boring and are becoming a target for water restrictions, so go natural and opt for a native design. If you are interested in how much this would cost to hire it out, check our website where we set up a lawn removal calculator: https://kndlandscaping.com/lawn-removal-replacement-calculator/.

If I am a homeowner does this affect me?

This does not affect you as a homeowner. However, if you live in an HOA, it does include the common areas of the community. If this is the case, it may be a good idea to check with your board about their water reduction strategy.

Are there rebates available for lawn removal?

Yes! There are rebates available and range by agency. Check your provider’s website for specific information.

If I am a homeowner who wants to keep my lawn, what are some ways to conserve water?

If you are a homeowner who is not required to stop watering, but you still would like to reduce your usage, there are a lot of things you can do: healthy lawn uses less water so keep your lawn healthy, increase mowing height, change spray heads for high efficiency nozzles, reduce overspray, aerate and dethatch your lawn to improve penetration rates, be smart about your programming and water your lawn based on soil type and turf variety, change your lawn out for a drought tolerant landscape (just had to throw that in there).

I have cut back significantly but I constantly see leaks on properties around town. What can I do?

I’d like to say everyone is doing a great job at conserving more, but I still see leaks almost daily! I have found that many local properties are owned and managed by remote companies with little-to-no presence locally. Leaks on these properties usually go unnoticed for weeks or months. If you see an issue, make sure to reach out via your local water hotline 831-420-5230 for Santa Cruz City water customers.

Where can I learn more about California’s water situation?

I recommend https://saveourwater.com/. This site has great information on reduction strategies along with news and updates.

Have more questions I didn’t cover?

Email me at info@kndlandscaping.com with your questions, my team and I will help find you the answers.

I hope everyone has a great summer!

Justin White is the CEO of K&D Landscaping, headquartered in Watsonville, CA and awarded “2020 Business of the Year” by the Pajaro Valley Chamber of Commerce. White is the preceding President of the central coast chapter California Landscape Contractors Association (CLCA). He is also involved with several, non-profit organizations throughout the community. For more information on landscaping, outdoor and garden needs, contact K&D Landscaping at kndlandscaping.com.

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