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California Water Restrictions and their Impact on HOAs

The severe drought currently impacting California shows no sign of abating in the near future. California Governor Jerry Brown has issued mandatory water cutbacks for the state, instituting limits and guidelines for both commercial and residential property. Residents are asked to reduce potable water usage by 25% through February 28, 2016, while certain high-usage areas are asked to cut water consumption by as much as 36%.

HOAs can have an enormous impact on water conservation. As managers of the shared grounds in residential communities and arbiters of rules regarding lawn maintenance, landscaping requirements, and residential car and driveway washing, every homeowners association has a responsibility to balance the needs of residents with the water conservation requirements set forth by state and local agencies.

Here are some ways to stay keep water consumption under control while working with your homeowners association to maintain an attractive neighborhood.

Reduce Your Usage

The most immediate way to reduce large-scale water consumption is to simply reduce the amount of water dedicated to irrigating ornamental landscaping. Your HOA management team has likely already spoken with your groundskeeper to amend the watering schedule for common space landscaping in your neighborhood, but here are more ways that you can help:

  • Cut back on the number of days you water your lawn and garden
  • Reduce the amount of time spent per watering session
  • Water at night to avoid water loss through evaporation
  • Inspect sprinkler heads to ensure that they are facing greenery
  • Fix leaky connections on sprinklers or faucets
  • Wash your car less often or use water-free cleaning methods


For those living in San Diego County, the City of San Diego strongly urges residents to reduce lawn watering to no more than twice weekly, limited to five minutes per day. Water-efficient systems like drip and micro-irrigation systems and stream rotor sprinklers do not need to adhere to the five-minute-per-day schedule, but should comply with the twice-weekly limit. Those within the Irvine Ranch Water District are asked to cut their outdoor watering in half. Restrictions and guidelines vary for all Orange County cities and can be found at the bottom of the Orange County Water District’s drought page. Residents under the Rancho California Water District (which includes Temecula) are at a Stage 4a Extreme Water Supply Warning, which means use of water in decorative fountains (even with recirculation) is prohibited, as is washing personal vehicles at home.

Be Proactive

Speak with your homeowners association about launching initiatives to update individual homes and neighborhood landscaping to include more drought-friendly plants that are attractive alternatives to water-hungry grass.

Drought-friendly landscaping alternatives include:

  • Replacing foliage with drought-resistant plants
  • Replacing lawns with artificial green turf or rock gardens
  • Covering greater areas with wood chips or pebbles
  • Reducing communal lawn space by replacing with pavers, tile, colored cement or asphalt
  • Including more plants indigenous to Southern California
  • Converting ornamental fountains into planters filled with drought-resistant greenery

Understand Penalties for Infractions

Penalties for over-usage could result in additional charges from water utilities, municipal fines, citations, or misdemeanor charges with accompanying fines or jail time.

Specific penalties vary by region so you should speak with your HOA management team for detailed regulations regarding the penalty for violations. A recent article lists specific cutback requirements for various parts of Orange County, while San Diego restrictions and recommendations can be found here.

Stay Informed

State water cutbacks can conflict with your current HOA landscaping regulations, so the best course of action is to contact your HOA manager for more information. As each homeowners association responds to new regulations in their area, communication with residents is important. Each homeowners association should create a water reduction plan with measurable goals that should then be shared with residents. A written plan will assist with tracking month-over-month progress and keep water reduction goals top of mind at HOA meetings.

As residents of Southern California, we must all do our part in reducing water consumption to ensure that our region is an inhabitable place for generations to come. With organization, cooperation, and perseverance, individual residents and homeowners associations can have a huge impact on preserving this precious natural resource.

How is your HOA working to reduce your community’s water consumption? Share your tips below.

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