The Cities of Santee and Lemon Grove Take Steps to Use Native, Drought Tolerant Plants to Reduce Water Usage
With the recent rains our region has received, it is easy to think San Diego’s water supply issues will soon be resolved. However the reality is that San Diego has a Mediterranean climate and on average we receive less than 10 inches of rain per year. The native vegetation that grows naturally in our area is reflective of that low rainfall…it requires little water to survive.
However, in San Diego County, approximately 55% of all residential water use goes towards outdoor landscaping. Unfortunately, in many cases, that landscaping is lush with non-native plant species that require significant amounts of water to thrive. Given the long-term challenges to our water supply, we need to continue to look for every potential solution that will help our region achieve the dual goals of a reliable, clean water supply and an excellent quality of life. Fortunately, many of the solutions are “home grown” and it’s just a matter of tapping into native, local resources, which a number of communities have already done.
To encourage landowners to change their landscapes to more drought-tolerant, native plant species, the state of California released a draft model landscape ordinance in September of 2009, from which counties and cities were expected to mold their own ordinances by January 1, 2010. San Diego County Water Authority finalized its model ordinance in November 2009, and distributed the ordinance to local land use agencies in the region. Although very similar to the state ordinance, the county ordinance actually tightens some landscaping constraints while alleviating others. For instance, it recommends that the ordinance apply to new multi-family and commercial landscapes in the range of 1000-2500 square, it requires the use of water conserving sprinklers and restricts the use of turf.
To date, eight San Diego County cities have adopted their own ordinances, and some cities have gone above and beyond the state or county requirements. One such place is the City of Santee, which has partnered with SANDAG and CleanTech to implement its Sustainability Project, aimed at making the city a model of eco-efficiency. A big component of this project is water conservation, and recently Santee has demonstrated its commitment to this by intensifying the Santee landscape ordinance to include established municipal and community landscapes over one acre in size. The city has set a maximum water allowance that will be monitored through routine irrigation audits. Moreover, planned developments of qualifying size must submit a design and water usage plan to the city for approval. So far Santee has converted turf at Shadow Hill Park to low water use turf, replaced other existing turf with more drought tolerant landscaping, and planned a Median and Streetscape Demonstration Project that will be implemented along Mission Gorge Road in an effort to reduce water consumption.
Other communities in San Diego County have also taken steps to lower landscape water usage. Lemon Grove completed its drought tolerant landscaping project on Lemon Grove Avenue and Broadway. Carlsbad continues to implement its Raceway Project, which saw the installation and maintenance of approximately 20 acres of native, and drought tolerant plant material. And Encinitas is currently in the process of developing a drought tolerant landscaping plan for its new Public Works/San Dieguito Water District Building. Cities that did not adopt their own ordinances by January 1, 2010 are automatically subject to the County’s model ordinance, as required by State Law.
To inform both commercial and residential landscape developers, the San Diego Water Authority in conjunction with the Water Conservation Garden released a list of 50 recommended low-water usage plants called “Plants for Water Smart Landscapes”. Not only can low water usage plants save water, but they can also save the water bill payer money in the long term.
Resources for those interested in low
California Native Plant Society-San Diego Chapter
Cuyamaca Water Conservation Garden
The San Diego County Water Authority Guide to “Water Smart Landscaping”
San Diego Botanical Garden in Encinitas, which has a section of the garden dedicated to plant species native to San Diego County and Southern California.
San Diego County Xeriscape Council, Inc., at (619) 283-6000