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California Government Moves Towards Requiring OFG!

The updating of an existing California law would move the state towards requiring the essential parts of the Ocean Friendly Gardens (OFG) approach in virtually all new development and redevelopment. Two-plus years of work by Surfrider and colleagues have paid off!

In order to improve water quality and reduce potable water use in California, many believe that stronger regulation is needed and ones that touch as many properties as possible. Though cities around the country fund rebate programs to install rain gardens, not one city in California does so (the City of Santa Monica is considering it). Rain gardens are a way to comply with more recent regional stormwater permits in San Diego County, Los Angeles/Ventura County and San Francisco County.  Some municipal low impact development ordinances also allow for rain gardens, with the trigger being the addition of new impervious surfaces (for example, a room addition to a house).

So the Governor’s April 1st, 2015 Drought Executive Order directed the state’s leading water supply agency – the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) to take action to affect more properties. Their mandate is to update the main water supply-oriented land-use law (Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance) through an expedited process to address water use and water quality:

  • On-site rainwater capture
  • Limiting the percentage of turf planted in new landscapes
  • Irrigation system efficiency standards
  • Graywater usage

In 2013, as required by a state statute, DWR brought together representatives from seven different sectors of the water world to form the Independent Technical Panel (ITP).  This panel is charged with making recommendations on water conservation and efficiency. This year, the ITP has focused its work on outdoor water use. The panel has embraced the OFG approach (they and others statewide are calling it the “watershed approach” since everyone may not live by the ocean but lives in a watershed). ITP member Ed Osaan, who works for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), has been a leader in pushing for on-site rainwater capture. The California Urban Water Conservation Council staff have shown the value of the watershed approach, the importance of statewide collaboration, and the need for professional training (Surfrider is a member of the Council's Board of Directors). Pamela Berstler of G3/Green Gardens Group, speaking on behalf of the Association of Professoinal Landscape Designers-CA Chapter, described how a training program could be instituted, and she very simply explained the value and technique for directing rainwater into the landscape.

After numerous meetings that included presentations and comments from groups such as Surfrider, the Panel has made numerous, consensus-based recommendations for DWR to include in the public draft of the revised model ordinance that comes out tomorrow, June 12th.  The recommendations most related to OFG include:

Applicability - The landscape size threshold has been reduced for all new construction projects from 2500 sq. ft. to 500 sq. ft. This applyies anyone pulling a development permit, whether for rehabilitation or new development.

Onsite rainwater capture

  • All drainage from roof surfaces shall be directed to vegetated areas, mulched areas, infiltration areas, water features, rain barrels, or cisterns.
  • Rain barrels, cisterns, and water features shall overflow to vegetated areas, mulched areas, or infiltration areas
  • Retention and infiltration capacity is strongly recommended* to be provided sufficient to prevent runoff from roof surfaces and the landscape area from either the one inch, 24-hour rain event or the 85th percentile, 24-hour rain event, and such additional capacity, if any, as may be required by any applicable local or regional regulation.

Soil health - To build living soil and thus sponge up and filter water, compost and mulch needs to be added if there isn’t already a certain level of organic matter in the soil (figured out by a soil test).

Limiting turf  - In parkways (the strip of land between sidewalk and curb), turf is discouraged and drip irrigation is encouraged.

Irrigation - There are several recommendations on improving irrigation system efficiency to prevent waste and runoff. Dedicated landscape water meters or sub-meters are required for residential landscape areas over 5000 sq. ft. and non-residential areas over 1000 sq. ft.

Graywater – Graywater systems, for on-site landscape irrigation water, are also encouraged. (Surfrider recommends that landscapes first look to rainwater for irrigation, and that graywater can help with fruit trees and with groundwater recharge.)

DWR will hold public meeting to hear comments: June 16th in So Cal and June 19th in No Cal. Written comments can be sent to The draft ordinance will receive its final hearing at the California Water Commission meeting on July 15th. Surfrider’s California Surfrider chapters can contact Paul Herzog, the national OFG Coordinator, with any questions.

* Due to pushback from some ITP members, language saying “shall” was changed to “is strongly recommended.” We anticipate that a number of groups will provide written and verbal comments asking that “shall” be used.