Santa Clara approves new water ordinance putting limits on lawn sizes, type of plants

The outside of Santa Clara Town Hall, Santa Clara, Utah, Oct. 13, 2021 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — With little comment on Wednesday, the Santa Clara City Council passed extensive water conservation and landscaping additions to its zoning codes that, among other items, limit the size of lawn areas at new homes, place water limits on new car washes and golf courses, ban certain plants and trees and prohibit irrigation with drinkable water from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., from June to August.

File photo of Santa Clara Planning and Economic Development Manager Jim McNulty speaks to the Santa Clara City Council during the council’s meeting at Santa Clara Town Hall, Santa Clara, Utah, Jan. 12, 2022 | Photo by Chris Reed, St. George News

The unanimous vote took place during the council’s Wednesday night meeting, and the new ordinance follows much of model ordinances put together by the Washington County Water Conservancy and other local cities during November’s water summit. 

City planner Jim McNulty said Santa Clara is the first Washington County city to adopt new water codes based on the conservancy’s model ordinance in response to the drought, though he noted St. George’s restrictions on car washes passed earlier in the month and said Washington City has their ordinance on an upcoming agenda. 

The council had temporary drought restrictions that were in effect since last year.

The discussion of the new ordinance lasted six minutes of the council’s Wednesday meeting, though the council also briefly discussed the new ordinance during the last two meetings and the Santa Clara Planning Commission held a public hearing on Feb. 10.

“We’ve been working on this for several months,” McNulty told the council. “We think it’s ready to go.”

There were two questions posed by council members: Ben Shakespeare asked McNulty whether other cities had adopted their own ordinances, and Jarett Waite asked whether the Vineyard’s Ridge development is using secondary water. McNulty replied that it is.

The council then voted 5-0 to approve the new ordinance with the stipulation that it be reviewed again by the Planning Commission in six months.

The new ordinance is separated into new standards: residential and business water efficiency standards and irrigation standards.

Lawn and construction standards

As part of the passed ordinance that goes into effect immediately, new single- and two-family homes in Santa Clara cannot have a lawn area larger than 8% of its square footage, and only 16% of the lot can be irrigated. 

A garden hose watering a lawn, shown for illustrative purposes, Cedar City, Utah, April 22, 2021 | Photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News / Cedar City News

In addition, any lot larger than a half-acre must use secondary irrigation. For new multifamily units, the new ordinance covers both landscaping and plumbing.

Such properties like apartments and condo complexes must have hot water recirculation systems in all units that allow hot water to come through quicker. All fixtures are required to be approved through the WaterSense program by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

As for landscaping at new multifamily complexes, lawns are banned except for an active recreation area. The city also now requires that 40% of a landscaped area needs to be covered by water-efficient shade trees and bushes.

As for businesses, commercial car washes are now restricted to use a maximum of 35 gallons of water per vehicle and also have a wastewater recirculation system.

New water features at businesses are limited to 50 gallons of capacity and must have recirculating pumps. 

Golf courses now have to irrigate with secondary irrigation water and are banned from using culinary, or drinkable, water. 

For those hot summer days in outdoor areas, there are also now limits on outdoor misting systems, which can only be operated from May to September if the high temperature exceeds 90 degrees.

Limits on types of plants

The new Santa Clara ordinance limits what plants and trees can be planted in new developments.

Undated file image of a purple passion ice plant at the Red Hills Desert Garden, which is among landscape plants deemed water-efficient by the Washington County Water Conservancy District, St. George, Utah | Photo courtesy of Washington County Water Conservancy District

Namely, plants must be local and noninvasive and listed on the conservancy’s website for water-efficient plants. 

As for park strips and other landscaped areas less than 8 feet wide, they cannot include lawn and must be landscaped with water-conserving plants. That also applies to slopes at angles of 20% or more. 

The new ordinance also affects the type of trees that are planted in a new development. Trees must be suitable for water-efficient landscapes and fruit trees are only permitted in areas zoned for them.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

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