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California bans watering 'non-functional' grass in some areas, strengthening drought rules

Ian James, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES — California's top water regulators adopted emergency drought rules Tuesday that scale up conservation requirements for water suppliers throughout the state and prohibit watering grass that is purely decorative at businesses and in common areas of subdivisions and homeowners associations.

The regulations outlaw the use of potable water for irrigating "non-functional" grass at commercial, industrial and institutional properties.

The ban doesn't apply to yards at individual homes. There are exemptions for sports fields, grassy areas where people gather, and for watering to keep trees healthy.

The State Water Resources Control Board voted to adopt the emergency drought regulations following an executive order by Gov. Gavin Newsom. The measures also require local water suppliers statewide to activate "Level 2" of their local contingency plans to prepare for a shortage of up to 20%.

"We need to activate Californians and really lean into the conservation that we're needing to see," said Joaquin Esquivel, chair of the state water board.

The regulations require each urban water supplier to submit an annual water supply and demand assessment. Each agency that has filed a shortage contingency plan should take steps to reduce water use to prepare for a shortage of between 10% and 20%.


Water agencies that haven't yet turned in a contingency plan to the state are required to take similar steps, including having a public information campaign focused on conservation and enforcing a rule limiting outdoor watering to two days a week, with limited hours before 10 a.m. or after 6 p.m.

The regulations define "non-functional" turf as grass that is "solely ornamental" and not regularly used for recreational purposes or community events.

"Any part of the golf course that is being used for the game of golf, such as the greens and the fairways, are functional," said Edward Ortiz, a spokesperson for the state water board. "However, water agencies and golf courses need to evaluate whether other turf on a golf course property is functional or not."

Areas that are irrigated with recycled wastewater aren't subject to the grass-watering ban.


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