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By Niki Cervantes
Staff Writer

November 19, 2015 -- In what seems to be a first in drought-stricken California, the City of Santa Monica is banning the use of nearly all new water sprinklers for landscaping, deeming the centuries-old system a water waster.

Sprinkling systems for all new developments and new sprinklers in existing landscapes, including parkways, are prohibited as of the end of the month, City officials said.

“It’s part of the new normal in terms of the drought,” said Dean Kubani, the City Sustainability Manager. Repairs and replacement of existing sprinkler heads is permitted, he added.

The City Council approved imposing the ban earlier this month as part of a larger effort to meet the steep cuts in water use the state of California now demands of its municipalities due to the state’s long rainless stretch.

City officials regard sprinklers, invented in the 19th century, to be technology that isn’t keeping up with the times, Kubani said, adding that they generate runoff. “Sprinklers are ineffective,” he said.

Instead, the City recommends irrigation drip systems, which are more effective, Kubani said, adding that as California’s dry spell lengthens, more property owners and developers are moving to drip irrigation anyway.

“Right now there are very few plans including sprinklers coming to us,” he said.

Exempted from the ban are large private green spaces such as sports fields and large playgrounds, where sprinkling systems are more effective, Kubani said.

Along with sprinkler ban, the City is limiting “high water use plants” to 20 percent of the total landscape in new residential projects. Plants that require either moderate or high amounts of water cannot exceed 40 percent of the total landscaping under the new regulations.

“This allows residents to have privacy hedges, minimal lawn, groundcovers, shrubs, and trees,” Kubani said.

“High water use” plants and turf will also be banned on commercial properties in new developments and on public street medians, according to the new rules.

Kubani said the ban on new sprinklers appears to be a first for the state. In researching the new regulations, his office found no other California city that had outlawed new water sprinklers, although many municipalities are taking such steps as limiting the hours allowed for watering.

No members of the public spoke on the issue when it came before the Santa Monica City Council earlier this month, and there was little discussion among Council members, Kubani said.

The California Landscape Contractors Association doesn’t support the ban or many of the other water-cutting measures being implemented by California cities and water providers, said Mike Garcia, the Association’s past president.

Only nine percent of all California water is used residentially, with agriculture responsible for the rest, he said.

Santa Monica’s ban is another unfair burden on non-agricultural uses, Garcia said.
“It’s a witch hunt,” he said.

The invention of water sprinklers dates back to about 1881. The first U.S. patent was registered in Buffalo, New York, around that time.
Like cities across California, Santa Monica has struggled to save water as the drought continues.

It’s enjoyed some notable successes so far. The City itself collectively reduced usage by 52 percent this June, compared to the same period last year, officials said. It did so mostly by ripping out grass where it could on City-owned property and watering less.

State Water Resources Control Board officials in May imposed mandatory “conservation standards,” based on water used in 2013, for all of the 411 large urban suppliers regulated by the agency.

The board is trying to reduce use among the suppliers by 25 percent by February, as required by Gov. Jerry Brown’s executive orders in April.

The City has been meeting its goal to reduce water use across Santa Monica by 20 percent, officials said.

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