California Drought Impacts Landscaping and Building Codes


California has long been associated with sprawling green lawns, but this iconic image could soon be a thing of the past. As the state’s drought becomes increasingly severe, adjustments are being made to building and landscaping codes in an effort to preserve valuable water.

California Building Standards Commission passes new codes

The Los Angeles Times reported that the state’s Building Standards Commission passed a new code on May 29 that reduced the amount of water most buildings can use for landscaping by 20 percent. Under the revised standards, new construction projects that exceed 2,500 square feet must use 22 percent less water than previous codes allowed for. Old structures constructing new additions must follow this rule as well, noted the source. Additionally, schools must reduce their outdoor water usage by 35 percent.

Code revisions were pushed for by California Gov. Jerry Brown, who wants the state to reduce urban water use by 25 percent. Brown’s call to action comes after California’s fourth straight year of severe droughts, explained the Times. The updated standards are just the most recent effort to achieve Brown’s goal. The source noted that the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California recently invested $350 million into conservation programs and lawn-removal promotion programs.

KCRA reported that state leaders believe now is the best time to implement these rules, mostly because California’s economy is gaining strength and higher numbers of people are buying and constructing homes. As people have more money to spend on real estate and repairs, officials want to make sure restrictions are in place to monitor excess water use.

“The economy is rebounding. And as we do it, we want to make smart choices with how we use water at our homes,” Brian Ferguson, a spokesman for the state Department of General Services, told the news source.

New restrictions mean architects need to get creative

Under these new standards, landscapers, designers and architects need to think outside the box. While creating buildings with curb appeal will still be their top priority, they must do so in a way that doesn’t require much water for upkeep. The Times explained that many designers are starting to experiment with foliage that thrives in dry environments and other alternative lawn materials. Schools will likely replace formerly green areas with plant-free play spaces.

KCRA noted these codes aren’t just inspiring new construction projects – many existing California homes are becoming grass-free as well. Lawn reimbursement programs have inspired people to get rid of their grass in favor of shrubs and bushes, which can survive on much less water. These are already starting to become popular options, and purely ornamental green spaces are quickly becoming antiquated among residents of the Golden State.

The new rules are also providing landscaping professionals more opportunities to test alternative hydration methods, like using gray or recycled water, captured rainwater and drip irrigation systems. The Times explained that the drought may push California’s landscaping industry to be on the cutting edge of developing aesthetically pleasing “water efficient spaces.” A state traditionally connected with sprawling grassy spaces may soon be receiving a whole new image. It’s up to the region’s current industry professionals to decide where they want to take California’s new look.

“This alone won’t solve the drought, but over time, as buildings are built and new landscape goes in with less turf, landscapes will have a much lower water demand. It will reset the norm for what we think about landscape,” Peter Brostrom of the Department of Water Resources told the Los Angeles Times.


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