There’s one thing that no law will ever be, and that is perfect. For better or for worse, our laws are constantly being reinterpreted and redefined. As drought continues to affect many areas of the country, municipalities everywhere have tried to strengthen water efficiency laws. They’ve developed strict ordinances that apply to all sorts of projects: commercial, institutional, and residential.

A prime example of this kind of legislation is California’s Model Water-Efficient Landscape Ordinance. The ordinance, which has been revised several times by the California Water Commission and the Department of Water Resources, got its most recent amendment last July. It currently contains more than thirty directives issued by the Governor.

The constant shifts in policy make compliance with the ordinance frustrating at times. “We’re already at the peak of what irrigation efficiency can be,” said Dave Pagano, president of D.D. Pagano in Orange, California, and charter member of the American Society of Irrigation Consultants (ASIC). “So the only thing that can be affected is the type of plant material that is used. That makes things difficult for everybody. We’re following the same rules, but with different end results.”

Recognized as one of the foremost irrigation consultants in the country, Pagano said, “It costs more to do a design now than it did ten years ago, because of all these rules we have to follow that we didn’t have to follow then.” What’s more frustrating still is that every city in every county in California can have a different interpretation of state law.

“A part of our role is to determine what the rules are for a specific community or city and then apply those rules to the design,” said Pagano. Even if you’re using recycled water—which constitutes 90% to 95% of the water used by his team—there are vastly different laws governing its use in water districts across the state.

A word in your ear

This profusion of rules and regulations begs the question: why wasn’t the irrigation industry asked for its two cents, and is there a way to throw them in now? Wouldn’t it make sense, prior to enacting these ordinances, to get some perspective from people who work with irrigation systems on a daily basis?

Steve Hohl, ASIC member and principal of Water Concern, Ltd., in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, believes that trying to influence policy is a good thing for consultants. “Our role is to make sure that when they do make those policies, it’s something that can be achieved.”

The experience that organizations like these can bring to the table can’t be discounted. “ASIC is a big proponent of managing water resources and being the most efficient with water,” he said. “At the same time, there are a lot of people involved in policy making at the higher levels who aren’t as versed in irrigation efficiency.”

Hohl himself recently sat with Orange County officials who are drafting a more customized ordinance. He said that consultants have recently had a lot of involvement in working with California state legislators. “We went to those discussions, we sat at the table, and we brought a bunch of ideas about things they hadn’t thought of,” he said.

Through minor tweaks and adjustments, local agencies can have their own rules, as long as they meet the official state requirements. “It’s a fun process to go through,” he said, “adding things to it, altering it just enough to where it applies to what our local conditions are.”

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