A state law that recently went into effect prevents property owners' associations in Texas from shunning drought-resistant landscapes. They still can require residents to submit landscape designs for approval, but plans cannot be rejected based on plant selection.

Homeowner Associations (HOAs) also cannot prevent owners from composting, leaving grass clippings on the lawn or installing rain barrels. Rainwater harvesting, drip irrigation or other efficient watering systems can be used as long as it's in keeping with the neighborhood aesthetic.

“It does not give owners carte blanche,” said Elliot Cappucio, an attorney with the firm of Pulman, Cappuccio, Pullen, Benson and Jones in San Antonio, Texas. The firm represents approximately 300 property owner associations statewide.

“The homeowner still has to come up with a reasonable plan. If that plan calls for rocking over the front yard with decomposed granite or pea gravel, it likely will be rejected. That's not going to fit with the characteristics of the neighborhood,” said Cappuccio.

“One of the challenges lies in the definition of Xeriscaping,” said Juan Soulas, a senior conservation planner for San Antonio Water System. “There are a lot of misconceptions out there.”

Almost all the HOAs that Carolyn Thacker from Association Management Services works with have encouraged the switch to drought-tolerant plantings. “In my experience, architectural control committees support landscapes that conserve water, as long as it's not all rock or mulch. You want a little color, as long as it's the right plant selection,” she said.

A landscape that's one-third beds, one-third lawn and one-third hardscape is a good formula,” says Soulas. “Beds require less water than even drought-tolerant turf, and the hardscape requires no water. The law makes it easier for homeowners to do what they can to conserve water while still being respectful to the aesthetic that the HOA aspires to,” he said.