Despite El Nino rains, Palo Alto tightens water restrictions

Palo Alto’s new landscaping ordinance requires the usage of native or low-water-use plants.Palo Alto’s new landscaping ordinance requires the usage of native or low-water-use plants.

Despite heavy rainfall brought in by El Nino, California’s drought is far from over and Palo Alto’s city council has introduced a new landscaping ordinance in an attempt to comply with Gov. Jerry Brown’s orders of water conservation.

The council’s new rules would require for at least 80 percent of the landscaping material used in projects to be native plants, low-water-use plants, or plants that can survive with no irrigation. The emergency ordinance, if passed, will take effect on Feb. 1 and applies to landscapes of all sizes, unlike state and other regional ordinances.

Palo Alto residents would also be banned from using turf or high-water-use plants in irrigated areas. For those who wish to avoid the restrictions, there is the option of completing a water budget calculation, which would project the annual water usage of the planned landscape.

In an effort to reduce the amount of water-craving species planted, the ordinance would also use evapotranspiration thresholds (the amount of water that is evaporated or transpired) to determine the maximum applied water allowance.

The city’s Development Service Department says that this maximum applied water allowance would be lowered from 70 percent to 55 percent for residential projects and for non-residential projects it would be 45 percent, according to Palo Alto Online.

Another new feature that the emergency ordinance would introduce is a new permitting system for landscaping projects. These permits would be processed separately from building permits.

If adopted, the ordinance also will require that existing landscapes over one acre in size comply with the city’s programs involving irrigation audits and that property owners ensure their landscapes prevent water waste and runoff.

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