Paso adopts stringent water rules for developers

Paso Robles developers have to cut back on the size of lawns and how they water them to comply with a new state law taking effect in January.

The rules won’t affect owners of existing properties because the city can’t retroactively require them, officials said.

The new regulations are expected to reduce Paso Robles’ outdoor water consumption by at least 19 percent when compared to projects without these restrictions, according to city documents.

“The goal is to make sure the landscaping that is initially installed is water-conserving right out of the chute,” Community Development Director Ron Whisenand said.

Paso Robles’ City Council welcomed the water-saving measures Tuesday night, and no developers spoke in opposition to it.

California cities are required to adopt the state’s model on water-efficient landscape irrigation, or craft their own system, by January. The changes come as the state battles its third straight year of drought.

Paso Robles chose to draft its own rules because the state guide is filled with technology-based water controls, costly tactics and detailed audits — making it expensive and complicated, officials said. The state rules pose time and financial burdens on city staff to conduct the checks and on the developer to pay for the new methods, officials said.

Instead, “staff has come up with an ordinance that is much easier to administer but clearly gets at the community’s goal of conserving water,” Whisenand said.

The ordinance, which the City Council passed Tuesday night, lists rules for new development on residential, commercial and industrial projects. There’s also a special section that puts restrictions on turf — which is essentially mowed grass.

Other examples of the city’s version of the law include:

The state’s suggestions apply to virtually any new or redone landscape that’s 2,500 square feet or more, according to city documents. Paso will require it of landscapes at one acre or more.

The term “landscapes” refers to land covered in turf, lawn or sod, Whisenand said, not acreage with trees or native vegetation.

Still, new development on parcels less than one acre isn’t completely free and clear. The city still limits the amount of turf to a percentage of the landscape based on calculations to achieve a 20 percent landscape water reduction, officials said.

Paso Robles officials said they have not yet determined how the plan will financially affect the city, but they expect the local version would reduce administrative costs compared to the state’s model because it doesn’t require hiring people to enforce the rules.

At least one member of the public Tuesday night expressed wishes for stricter regulations so more water can be saved.

Kathy Barnett of Paso Robles, a frequent public speaker at council meetings, said additional regulations are needed because the town just came off its mandatory summer conservation effort in which users cut 20 percent of their normal usage. Paso Robles is a dry, arid area, and water is among the growing city’s top issues, she added.

The Planning Commission also pushed for a wider conservation net in the new ordinance at its meeting last month when it voted 4 to 3 for it.

The three dissenting votes were in favor of also limiting the amount of turf in the side and rear yards.

However, limiting turf in the rear and side yards of single family homes is not a requirement of the state and would only impose more costs on people, according to city staff.

The council also expressed concern that the average family would have to rip out their lawns. But, according to Whisenand, the new rules don’t affect:

Landscaping workshop coming in January

The new rules don’t affect residents and businesses with existing properties, but city staff still encourages them to limit outdoor watering.

A voluntary workshop on the steps to convert a grass lawn into a Mediterranean landscape is scheduled from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Jan. 30 at City Hall, 1000 Spring St. To register for the free seminar, call 227-7238.

Also visit www.prcity.com/water.