City ordinance limits lawn size

New Water Utility Services ordinance amendments approved by City Council on April 22 are expected to help reduce irrigation water use.



Although the city of Georgetown has enough water supply to serve its current customer base and future customers, city officials warned City Council that without reducing the per-capita per-day water consumption, the city may not be able to build out to its full potential population.



Currently Georgetown Water Utility customers use an average of 218 gallons of water per capita per day, Georgetown Utility Manager Jim Briggs said. The citys goal is to lower that to 160 gallons per day.



At this point we are only 20 percent built out in our [service territory]. We have 80 percent thats left [to develop], Briggs said. If we convert over to changes in landscape [requirements] with the 80 percent, we will be able to meet our goal. We will probably have the most reasonable water rates in the state with the resources we have now if we get on it and start managing it right now and we change the way weve been building. Thats not even touching the 20 percent [already developed].



Per-capita use



At the 218 gallons per capita per day usage rate, Briggs said the city could build out to a population of 150,000. However, if the usage goal of 160 gallons per capita per day were to be reached, the city could support a population of 201,000.



[The citys] water master plan projects that the build-out in our service area will be at [more than] 200,000 people, and if we are using 210 gallons per capita per day we are not going to [be able to support] that, Georgetown Conservation Services Manager Kathy Ragsdale said. If we cant get [the per-capita use] down, we are going to have to buy more water. Water is very expensive, and its in great demand.



The 2014 Water Conservation Plan, approved by City Council on April 8, and water ordinance amendments outline irrigation and landscape requirements for new residential construction and the installation of new irrigation systems, she said.



[The plan] limits how much [of a lot] can be grass and how much can be irrigated with spray irrigation, Ragsdale said. You cant let people buy a house that has all turf and as much irrigation as they want and expect them to get their consumption down to 160 gallons per capita per day. You cant buy somebody a Cadillac and then make them have to get 40 miles to the gallon. If the houses have a huge amount of turf that needs irrigation, we are setting them up for failure.



Regulations



The amended ordinance, which goes into effect June 1, applies to all new residential construction, but will not affect current construction or approved projects, Briggs said.



Under the ordinance, the area of a yard that can be irrigated is limited to 2.5 times the structures foundation or a maximum of 10,000 square feet to reduce the amount of turf to be irrigated. Irrigating turf is the primary cause of increased or excessive irrigation, said Mike Babin, deputy general manager of utilities. The ordinance also requires 6 inches of topsoil be applied under turf grass to help retain water.



The [conservation] plan is our statement of strategy. It is our goals and how we intend to achieve them, Babin said.



The plan also refers to the citys preferred plant list, which includes native and adaptive plants that contractors will be required to use.



What we are requiring is that [the grasses used] be summer grasses that have summer dormancy capability, Ragsdale said. These are the grasses that react to heat and [dryness] that go dormant in the summer. We want them to go dormant during the summer so people dont have to water them.



Although the restrictions on plant types only apply to homebuilders and new construction, Ragsdale said the city would prefer residents follow that list as well.



The plan includes some rebates and incentives for current homeowners, including for irrigation system upgrades and turf replacement as well as for rain barrels and annual irrigation system checkups.



We are providing incentives for customers [so they can] go in and change their landscaping to be more efficiently landscaped, Ragsdale said.



Changes to the conservation plan could be made during the next year, and may include adding provisions for new commercial and multifamily construction projects as well as additional retrofit and rebate programs for existing developments.



Were having to [put the plan together] in phases, Ragsdale said. There are other things we want to address, but we dont want to do it all at one time.



Ragsdale said a timeline for future phases of the plan has not been set but said she does not expect there to be a long delay between phases.



Once we get the [ordinance underway], we will start up the next phases, she said. We are going to move from phase to phase and not wait a year to start [the next phase].



Public comments



Two citizens who spoke at the April 8 City Council meeting supported the plan and the changes to the ordinance.



I wholeheartedly support staff and what they are doing with this water issue, Georgetown resident Gary Newman said. A lot of our problem is homeowners and our perceptions of lawns.



Sun City resident Paul Weiss said he supported the changes but said he would like to see more rebates offered to residents who are trying to conserve water by improving their landscaping and irrigation systems.



We seek rebate assistance expansion as the plan rolls out, Weiss said. We need to demonstrate that [Georgetown Utility Systems] and the city of Georgetown value immediate conservation for established customers and want to help them get going quickly on a water-saving mindset.



City Council members requested April 22 city staffers bring back regular updates on the citys per-capita water use.



I would say ultimately for this water plan to succeed we are going to have to get people to change the way they think about water and the way they use water, Councilman Keith Brainard said.



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