California’s landscapes provide essential functions throughout our urban environment. It’s where we recreate, cool our buildings, enhance property values, capture, clean and recharge groundwater, provide wildlife habitat, grow food locally, and much more. The optimal design, installation and management of these spaces is critical to enhancing California’s quality of life while protecting our limited natural resources.
It’s estimated that about half of California’s total urban water use is dedicated to sustaining our urban landscapes.1 However, examples of excessive water use are all too common throughout the Golden State. In fact, according to USEPA, experts estimate that up to 50 percent of commercial and residential irrigation water use goes to waste due to evaporation, wind, improper system design, or overwatering.2
For more than two decades, California’s urban water utilities have collaborated alongside environmental interests and the private sector through the California Urban Water Conservation Council to identify and implement best management practices for water conservation. Despite significant gains over the years much work remains to be done, and landscape resource efficiency is the next frontier. To that end, in 2011 the Council tasked its Landscape Committee with developing a long-term vision for sustainable urban landscapes.
The Committee’s work included identifying common elements from a variety of public and private sustainability programs and resources, and surveying subject matter experts and other stakeholders for input on the latest sustainable landscaping practices. Dubbed the “New Norm,” what emerged from this process is a holistic and integrated vision for landscape sustainability that transcends beyond water-use efficiency to also address a multitude of related benefits, including:
landscapes make these vital urban spaces the focus of multiple regulations, public agency programs, and nonprofit initiatives. A systematic shift to more sustainable landscaping practices throughout California’s watersheds has the potential to generate
tremendous benefits at the local, regional and state levels. Tapping these benefits won’t be easy; landscapes are complex. However, current conditions, such as the 2014 drought emergency, rising water prices, new stormwater regulations, etc., have created an ideal climate to usher in a new era for sustainable California landscapes.
Adoption of the new norm will require a focused and coordinated effort across multiple sectors. Significant obstacles to overcome include pre-conceived negative notions by consumers about the look and feel of water-efficient landscapes (e.g., overly sparse and dry) and a low level of technical proficiency by the workforce. Therefore, implementation of the new norm has been framed as a long-term market transformation process with a significant role for everyone to play. The magnitude of the potential benefits enumerated above underscores the vast importance to the state of ensuring that this transformation occurs as quickly as possible.
To kick off the dialogue among like-minded public agencies, the Council convened two statewide symposia in May 2014. Co-sponsored by several state agencies, these events in Northern and Southern California were attended by more than 350 people. This report captures potential next steps to implement the new norm while also highlighting the work of various participants who are open to future partnership and collaboration opportunities.
Sustainable landscapes are an upgrade, not a compromise. Please join the dialogue and take an active role implementing this pivotal initiative for California.