Water is one of the most important natural resources on our planet and it is necessary for the survival of all life. Even more precious is water clean enough to drink, to cook with and to bathe. Why then, in a state prone to severe droughts, would we use half of our drinking water outdoors? Why would we pump water hundreds of miles from its source, treat it so that it is clean enough to drink, just to spray it on our lawns?
The lawn is thought to have originated in Europe, which makes sense because the moist, mild climate supports open, close-cut grasslands. Some of the earliest lawns as we've come to know them were the grasslands around medieval castles in France and Britain, kept clear of trees so guards had an unobstructed view. Closely shorn grass lawns, like those in most yards across the U.S., first emerged in 17th century England at the homes of large, wealthy landowners. Before lawnmowers, only the rich could afford to hire the many hands needed to scythe and weed the grass, and only the rich could dedicate such resources to a luxury with no productive value—so a lawn was a mark of wealth and status.
Today, lawns are a representation of the American dream—a home with a yard full of green grass and a white picket fence. But in places like California, it's time for that ideal to change.
As our population grows and climate change brings us more frequent and intense droughts with interceding years of heavy rain, our outdoor spaces provide an opportunity not only to stretch our limited resources, but create the climate resilient, locally sustainable communities we'll need to flourish in the years to come. How do we do this?
There are three important elements of a sustainable landscape
- Replace turf with native/climate-appropriate plants
- Retain rainwater and stormwater onsite
- Install meters to measure water use
To make the biggest impact, these elements must be incorporated into state regulations. In California, state regulation of landscape water use is done primarily through the publication of a "Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance" (MWELO), which as the name implies, is to be adopted and enforced by local government agencies. However, under state law, if localities fail to adopt this model ordinance or something equally stringent, the provisions of the Model Ordinance take on the force of law anyway. So the model ordinance is, in fact, a statewide regulation by default—a minimum set of requirements that are applicable in every jurisdiction.
As part of the state's emergency response to the drought, Gov. Brown has called for a directive to tighten state rules to make new landscapes more water-efficient. Directive 11 of the April 2015 Executive Order (shown below) requires an update of the MWELO to increase water efficiency in new and existing landscapes through more efficient irrigation, graywater use, onsite stormwater capture, and by limiting turf. The Department of Water Resources (DWR) has responded with a draft proposal that points the way to better landscapes and water stewardship, but falls short of several needed changes that would transform our turf heavy outdoor spaces to sustainable, pollution reducing, climate-appropriate landscapes.
Directive 11: The Department shall update the State Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance through expedited regulation. This updated Ordinance shall increase water efficiency standards for new and existing landscapes through more efficient irrigation systems, greywater usage, onsite storm water capture, and by limiting the portion of landscapes that can be covered in turf. It will also require reporting on the implementation and enforcement of local ordinances, with required reports due by Dec. 31. The Department shall provide information on local compliance to the Water Board, which shall consider adopting regulations or taking appropriate enforcement actions to promote compliance. The Department shall provide technical assistance and give priority in grant funding to public agencies for actions necessary to comply with local ordinances.
Where the DWR Proposal Falls Short
1. The Water Budget
As the name implies, this is the quantity of water that a new landscape must be designed to stay within. With a reduced water allowance, developers and designers of new landscapes will need to employ more efficient irrigation technology and select plant materials that require less water. The levels proposed by DWR are likely to rule out turf grass in commercial developments, while allowing about 25 percent of a new landscape to be turf in residential developments.
But with attractive alternatives to water-hungry turf now widely available, the continued installation of ornamental turf in new landscapes has to be seen as a wasteful practice. Functional turf has its place, now and in our future, for playing surfaces and places where people assemble. But turf as an ornamental ground cover should be disallowed in state regulations covering new landscapes, and DWR has stopped short of that goal.
2. Onsite Retention of Stormwater
Preventing rainwater from running off into gutters and into oceans and streams (picking up debris and polluted substances along the way) simultaneously improves water quality and reduces the waste of water that is otherwise shunted away to storm drains. The avoidance of waste requires the treatment of rainwater and stormwater as resources.
On-site retention and infiltration is already required by many stormwater permits applying to large new projects in major cities. By including this requirement in the Model Ordinance, we can ensure that rainwater is put to beneficial use in new developments of all types throughout California. DWR's new draft Model Ordinance encourages, but does not require, rainwater catchment and storm water retention. Unfortunately, previous "recommendations" in the Model Ordinance have not been effective.
Given the magnitude of the state's need for maintaining adequate water supplies and for improving the quality of stormwater discharges, a reasonable requirement for on-site retention for new development just makes sense. A clear standard for retention and infiltration in the Model Ordinance will help ameliorate both the water quality and water availability challenges facing the state. This is an opportunity that should not be missed.
3. Metering Outdoor Water Use
You can't manage what you don't measure. DWR took a positive step by including new requirements for separate measurement of water applied to landscape irrigation. Unfortunately, under the proposed revision, the installation of meters are limited that to larger properties. This requirement must apply to all parcels covered by MWELO. The only way a landscape can be managed to ensure that it stays within the water budget to which it was designed is by measuring the amount of water being applied.
Can you imagine trying to manage your finances if you never saw a bank balance? Inexpensive meters are available for this purpose, and the capability for property owners to conveniently read such meters and analyze their data through mobile devices is growing.
While DWR proposes that most new commercial landscapes have meters, the new proposal exempts most residential landscapes from any measurement requirement. Yet residential landscape water use is even larger than commercial landscape use as a share of total urban water usage. Installation of a meter to measure the water used to irrigate new residential landscapes should be required.
We are in the fourth year of an epic drought ... with no end in sight. And we know that we are likely to see more frequent and intense droughts in the future. We must find a way to use our precious and limited drinking water supply more efficiently; and surely using it to water plants that serve no purpose other than aesthetics isn't the best use for half of that supply.
We must make better use of alternative sources such as graywater and rainwater, we must measure what we use, and we must move away from large swaths of turf and toward beautiful landscapes filled with native, drought-resilient plants.
New landscapes are an opportunity to build smarter communities right from the start, and a stronger model landscape ordinance can point the way.
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1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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