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Texas AgriLife Extension Service Texas Water Development Board Texas Nursery and Landscape Association Texas AgriLife Extension Service Texas AgriLife Extension Service
A supplement to the Best Management Practices Manual produced by the Texas Water Conservation Task Force.

Ordinance Approach (Utility Service Rules) 17

Local ordinances can take numerous forms to assist in improving landscape planning and design for water conservation. Ordinance provisions include local compliance plus enforcement of state requirements for irrigation licenses; tree ordinances; landscape ordinances; stormwater permits and building permits including plat or site plan approvals.
Each of these approaches provide unique opportunities to save water by ensuring that new landscape installations are planned and designed with water conservation in mind.

Landscape guidelines in municipal ordinances in Texas are often found in the zoning code. Understanding all of the potential measures which could be passed by ordinance requires a review of zoning codes for numerous types of land uses, and potentially of specially designated zones within a community. To pass the water conserving features of
an ordinance, the utility water conservation staff must work with city planners, and be prepared to go to Planning and Zoning Commissions for adoption of proposals prior to presenting to a city council for approval. Each Home Rule City has the potential of approaching this problem uniquely, and the conservation staff should work closely with utility legal staff and city attorney(s) to ensure that ordinance provisions fit with local ordinance structures.

Local ordinances which focus on compliance with state irrigation licenses need to provide a point in the planning process and plan or permit review where the licensed irrigator can submit proof of license and penalty for non-compliance. An advantage of this approach is that the state license procedures and requirements are in existence, and require certain standards of training. The training ensures that irrigators have the knowledge to produce plans with appropriate irrigation uniformity, pressure management, and zoning principle in mind. However, without compliance activities to ensure that plans are followed the water savings are not likely to be realized.

Tree ordinances can assist in limiting the area of existing or native landscape which is disturbed or destroyed, thus reducing the amount of water needed for an entirely new landscape.

Ordinance Elements
Landscape ordinances can be included as elements in a city’s zoning ordinance, water conservation code, or as a separate stand alone set of guidelines. This manual will offer an approach to designing a landscape water conserving ordinance, or service rules for those utilities which do not have ordinance-making powers. It is not a comprehensive list
of all possible ordinance language – many time cities have distinct ordinance structures or landscape rules related to the history of ordinance passage, and these distinctions will need to be addressed as new and improved ordinances are passed by a city council. Some of the distinctions necessary for utilities which are privately held or otherwise do not
have ordinance powers are dealt with at the end of this section. Such utilities may use service rules as a method for addressing required or recommended elements in landscape design and implementation.

There is not one comprehensive model ordinance in Texas, although there are numerous water conservation provisions in various ordinances throughout the state. California has produced a model ordinance [http://www.owue.water.ca.gov/docs/WaterOrdIndex.cfm], and Cities of San Antonio [http://www.saws.org/conservation/ordinance/], El Paso [http://www.epwu.org/conservation/ordinance.html], and Austin all have ordinance provisions impacting water conservation year-round. Many more cities in Texas have year-round or summer restrictions on time of day watering, and water waste. Examining the wide variety of approaches which are possible, ordinances and/or service rules can include provisions which restrict, permit, encourage, or provide incentives for:

  • Plant Selection
  • Soil depth
  • Determination of soil texture, indicating the percentage of organic matter.
  • Hydrozone grouping of plants
  • Regionally adapted plant lists (use the U.L.G. Database!)
  • Preferences for native species
  • Landscape design plan specifications
  • Requirements for properly prepared landscape plans following landscape design practices recommended by the American Landscape Association for Xeriscape landscapes.
  • Grading Design Plans with limits on slopes or requirements for specific groundcovers on slopes.
  • Minimum depth of mulch application (2” to 3”) in beds
  • Listing of turfgrass approved species
  • Excluding species such as invasive plant species, or species not adapted to bioregional climate conditions.
  • Water Budget
  • Limits on turf/landscaped area

Medians, Buffers, Basins and Entrances
Size of medians is an essential concern when determining whether a landscape can thrive, and whether it can be irrigated efficiently. Plant health is affected by the heat island effect of small landscape areas surrounded by pavement, as well as the room available for roots to grow. Approaches focused on irrigation system choices are dealt with in Chapter 4.
Landscape ordinances can limit the types of plants based upon the size of these small landscaped areas and the specific environmental stresses that plant materials encounter in them.

Ensuring Success
In pursuing landscape ordinances or services rules, it is important that a utility evaluate its ability to ensure or enforce compliance. Compliance activities by a municipal government may require code enforcement personnel such building inspectors, plumbing inspectors or as 3rd party certifiers to certify that an ordinance has been properly followed. Conservation staff should communicate with all personnel involved in compliance and enforcement prior to finalizing ordinances or service rules. Some activities which should be anticipated, depending upon the approach taken include:

  • Landscape design approval
  • Backflow prevention review and approval
  • Meter installation/permit
  • Ability to identify recommend plant species, and excluded invasive species
  • Measuring soil depth.
  • Education about the ULG plant database.

Like the programmatic approaches dealt with in Section 3.8, successful ordinances and rules require education. Without an understanding of the ordinances, local builders, developers, irrigation, and landscape professional and homeowners are unlikely to comply. During the passage of an ordinance, public meetings and hearings can help introduce the concept to the most affected parties. But this will not be sufficient. Some annual reminders of the rules in the form of bill stuffers, Public Service Announcements on radio, TV and in newspaper, and flyers or brochures will all assist the utility in
informing the public and explaining its program.

Workshops for landscape professional can also provide an opportunity to inform the professional and development community about the ordinance provisions as well as voluntary or incentive programs the utility may sponsor. The need for continuing education by many of these professional can be met by utility cooperation with certifying agencies, like the TCEQ or the Texas Nursery & Landscape Association. TCEQ list of trainers [http://www.tceq.state.tx.us/compliance/compliance_support/licensing/li_basic_train.html] can be consulted to find a trainer near your utility who may be willing to work with your workshop efforts.

"Landscape planning and design is essential to water use efficiency..."

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17For utilities without ordinance making powers, service rules may be used to require certain landscape practices prior to a customer receiving a meter, or in order for the customer to continue receiving water service, or may be used to fine a customer who does not follow service rules.