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Planning commission sends approved water/landscaping plan on to supervisors

Supervisor Kevin Goss of District 2 recently appointed Moorea Hoffman Stout to the Plumas County Planning Commission. Her first meeting was Nov. 1.

Water and landscape efficiency is the most recent ordinance change to the county’s General Plan approved by the Plumas County Planning Commission at its regular meeting Thursday, Nov. 1.

The recommended ordinance change is in keeping with the state of California’s Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance (MWELO). This was a public hearing continued from the Oct. 4 meeting.

Following the close of the public hearing, commissioners voted unanimously to approve the proposed ordinance.

It will now go on to the Plumas County Board of Supervisors for additional public hearings and possible adoption.

The plan

Assistant Planner Tim Evans presented highlights of the proposed ordinance. This would amend Title 9 of the Plumas County Code.

As background, Evans explained that in 1990 Assembly Bill 325 established the Water Conservation in Landscaping Act. This formed a stakeholders group comprised of cities, counties, water suppliers and the landscape industry for new or rehabilitated landscapes. They were charged with developing the MWELO that would encourage water efficiency measures throughout the state. And while the unincorporated areas of Plumas County fall under this plan, the city of Portola must develop and approve its own plan, explained Plumas County Planning Director Randy Wilson.

As the state developed its MWELO, Evans said one of the primary findings is that water is in limited supply throughout the state.

Even in an area with abundant water supply, such as Plumas County, the drought is causing water concerns.

And while supplies are limited, even decreasing, demand is growing. “California’s economic prosperity is dependent on the availability of adequate supplies of water for future uses,” Evans stated in his overview.

With this in mind it has become state policy to promote conservation and efficient use of water and prevent waste. To do this, the legislature declared that, “landscape design, installation, maintenance and management can and should be water efficient.

While MWELO was initially adopted in the 1990s, it was updated by the state in July 2015 to adjust to more recent drought conditions. During that year, the governor signed an executive order directing the Department of Water Resources to update the state’s plan. The California Water Commission then approved that plan. This ordinance imposed stricter requirements concerning water use.

Among the requirements are more efficient irrigation systems, incentives for gray water usage, improvements for onsite stormwater capture, limiting areas planted with high water use plants, a prescriptive compliance option and annual reporting requirements for local agencies.

Among the 12 areas that saw the most significant revisions in the MWELO, two are of most concern to Plumas County residents. According to Evans these include the change in landscape size and dedicated water meters or submeters for landscapes.

Randy Wilson shows the 30-plus pound banana squash he raised during the summer right in Quincy. Wilson kept the drought in mind and used a drip system and a timer to ensure that only the plant was watered not the surrounding soil. Photo by Victoria Metcalf

Under the first revision, landscape sizes were lowered from 2,500 square feet to 500 for residential, commercial, industrial and institutional landscape projects.

Residential landscapes of more than 5,000 square feet and non-residential landscapes of more than 1,000 must have dedicated water meters or submeters.

Commissioner Jeff Greening asked if Plumas County even had any projects in the works that fall within this profile?

Considering this, Commissioner Larry Williams said that he was concerned that cemetery districts would get hit for higher water rates and restrictions.

Wilson explained that this is one of California’s many unfunded mandates. To meet increased costs those affected need to raise fees to keep pace.

That can only make it worse, Greening interjected.

In meeting these code change requirements by the state, Wilson said that they could amend the existing plan, adopt a new one or take no action and allow the MWEL to go into default. And that’s what Plumas County has done until planners had time to go through the state’s requirements.

“Due to Plumas County taking no action, MWELO went into effect by default, and the proposed ordinance is the adoption of the state’s MWEL that is currently in effect by default,” according to Wilson.

Those required to comply, including Plumas County, had until Dec. 2015 to do so.

The Nov. 1 meeting was not the first time commissioners discussed the proposed ordinance. It came before the commission at the Aug. 16 and Sept. 6 meetings. No one from the public was present to discuss the ordinance and its changes at either meeting. Supervisors Sherrie Thrall and Michael Sanchez were present at the Nov. 1 public hearing. No members of the public were present.

Newly appointed Commissioner Moorea Hoffman Stout asked Wilson if the changes to the ordinance included any provisions where schools or cemetery districts, for example, could apply for an exemption due to budget circumstances or other issues.

Wilson said that some sites don’t require it. These sites include areas such as botanical gardens, registered historical sites, ecological restoration projects, mined-land reclamation projects and others.

“That’s pretty much it.” Now the area is past October without seeing moisture and it’s very dry. “And it doesn’t look like it will get much better,” he added.

The planning department has everything a homeowner or landscaper needs to understand the new code. This includes water efficient landscape worksheets and the full code.

Discussion

Wilson said that he has taken drought conditions seriously and has implemented some strict water saving devices into his own yard. Indicating an enormous (especially for Plumas County’s limited growing season) banana squash his garden produced. He said he grew the squash with a drip irrigation system that only puts water on the plant and not the surrounding area. He also has the system on a timer.

Sanchez said that with the new ordinance “The meter procurement business will skyrocket.”

Greening said, “It is what it is.” No new water storage systems or reservoirs are planned by the state, he added.

If another drought hits “then it could get ugly,” Sanchez concluded.

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