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California Water Restrictions in 2021: What You Need to Know

As moderate to extreme drought stretches on throughout the state, California is especially impacted by lack of rain. Though there are no new usage restrictions in place locally just yet, area water districts are keeping an eye on reservoir levels and wholesalers are urging agencies to conserve water by developing their own water reduction plans.

For Southern California HOAs, proper water management has long been an important budgetary and aesthetic issue. Tasked with maintaining an attractive, inviting community, homeowners’ associations must balance the needs of upkeeping their existing landscaping with increasing costs and responsible water consumption.

For insight into the regulations affecting Southern California HOAs today, we spoke with Danny Smith, (Director of Water Management) at Park West, a leader in Southern California landscape management, landscape construction, and tree care.

Here’s what you should know about California’s 2021 water restrictions and how they impact your HOA. 

Recycled vs. Potable Water: A Different Set of Rules

Where an association receives its water plays an important role in its water management plan.

Potable water has the most stringent rules, including no permissible runoff from irrigation systems, zero overspray, and the requirement that all irrigation repairs be completed within 48 hours.

If your HOA is connected to a recycled water supply, your association may be paying 10-30% less, depending on the tiered structure and water district. However, by its very nature, recycled water quality is not as good as potable water and may cause challenges to irrigation infrastructure, particularly aging systems.

Most water districts have a multi-tiered plan structure in place for water with variable pricing for higher consumption. As of this article’s release, water districts have not implemented any restrictions on potable water. However, if reservoir levels continue to drop, expect this to trigger mandated water volume reduction requirements, including the restriction of irrigation to specific days of the week and disallowing the irrigation of unnecessary common area landscape.

Pressure-Regulating Spray Heads

As of October 1, 2020, California lawmakers mandated the use of pressure-regulating spray heads to guard against wasteful overspray. Park West has long been aware of the value of pressure-regulating spray-heads, so they were already in use in many of the HOAs serviced by the company. “We could see early on that pressure-regulating spray heads had tremendous value for HOAs,” explains Smith. “With so much area requiring irrigation in the average community, switching to highly-efficient spray heads saves volumes of water that easily offsets the initial investment.”

Local area water districts have valuable incentives in place to help communities make the switch. Incentives are different for commercial entities (such as HOAs) versus individual homeowners. Your HOA management company and/or landscape contractor can help determine if your community qualifies for a rebate and can help you complete the necessary paperwork to apply.

Take a Proactive Approach to Watering Restrictions

Restrictions on watering days and zones may succeed at cutting consumption but can produce unintended negative consequences if not handled correctly.

For example, a 2016 rule prohibited the irrigation of turf (grass) in medians. Unfortunately, this restriction also deprived water to the trees in medians, causing some to dry out and drop heavy limbs onto streets.

Watering day restrictions may also be detrimental to irrigation systems, particularly older systems that are not designed with maximum efficiency in mind.

The good news is that by working closely with your HOA management company and irrigation vendor, you may be able to find valuable workarounds. The team at Park West has been successful at receiving variances on behalf of associations. Smith explains, “When we apply for a variance, we essentially say, ‘We understand the requirements to achieve X percentage volume reduction. Let us develop a plan internally to achieve that level of reduction outside of blanket watering day restrictions.’” Your irrigation partner may elect to irrigate more than one valve at a time, adjust the time-of-day programming, install smart sensors, or implement other solutions to achieve the same level of reduction.

Consistently Communicate with Homeowners

Common area landscaping significantly impacts how a community looks and feels. For most homeowners, landscaping is personal. It’s extremely important to communicate the “why” behind any landscaping changes, your HOA’s timeline for implementation, and updates during every phase of the project. Keeping community members informed throughout the process will reduce pushback. If your HOA board plans to swap out areas of your community’s greenery with new landscaping, sharing the reasons, vision, and designs for the final landscaping plan can also help anxious homeowners better understand and visualize the updated look.

Your HOA management company can develop a robust communication plan to make sure homeowners understand the legal, financial, and aesthetic reasons behind the board’s decision.

Be Strategic about Changes

Your board doesn’t have to make decisions about water management alone. Your HOA management company, irrigation vendor, and landscaper all work together to help you achieve the best results for your community. They will likely conduct a group walk-through of your community, identify low-use areas where it makes sense to update, and take note of areas where existing landscaping should be preserved.

You can also work with your irrigation partner to determine the right plan to reduce consumption. Park West requests water history records from the previous two to five years, because, as Smith explains, “Offering a more effective water management program requires a thorough understanding of not only current consumption, but that of the past few years.” Your HOA management company can help compile these records. If your association does not keep water usage records, your manager and irrigation partner may be able to request them from your local water district. 

The Time is Now

Smith encourages all HOAs to take action to control water consumption sooner rather than later. “Capitalize on the available commercial irrigation rebates for Southern California. Water providers are helpful and friendly, providing incentives to become more water conscious. As the drought continues to worsen, rates will rise accordingly. Rebates may no longer be available, which could negatively impact your association’s budget. Now is the time to evaluate your HOA’s water consumption and start implementing new landscaping and irrigation updates, so you’re not forced to choose between brown foliage or an astronomical bill.”

Looking for ways your association can reduce water consumption? Our HOA management experts can help.

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