H2O Restriction Q&A

how will the new restrictions impact our gardens? here is what we know

May 7, 2022. By FormLA Staff: We are working to address questions about what the new MWD water restrictions mean for our gardens. Among other things, your actions and advocacy can still impact the shape of water restrictions in your area. Local water districts and municipalities can define how they choose to save water or simply affirm MWD’s recommended course of action.

This page will adapt as the drought and related policies evolve.

When do the new restrictions go into effect?

June 1, 2022

Where will be affected by the new restrictions?

While not all are impacted now, we expect all Angelenos will be asked to conserve more water now or later. As there will be a measure of local control that determines the shape of water restrictions, we are monitoring and also hoping to influence these conversations. Of course we will stay in conversation with you as local regulations evolve. Here is what we understand now:
IMPACTED NOW Current restrictions impact those served by Southern California’s regional water importer and wholesaler, the Metropolitan Water District (MWD), including those of our clients who get their water through:
Calleguas Municipal Water District
Las Virgenes Municipal Water District (View 6PM May 11 Virtual Town Hall)
Los Angeles Department of Water and Power
Upper San Gabriel Valley Municipal Water District (Newsletter Subscription)
Each of the impacted local water districts and the municipalities they serve have the option to default to the MWD 1x-per-week outdoor watering restrictions or to define their own, localized modes and means for saving water. LADWP, for example, recently announced the intention to provide for 2 watering days per week.
Impacted Later Beverly Hills and other areas served by the Colorado River are not subject to MWD restrictions. We do assume restrictions from other water agencies are on the way, as federal restrictions on the release of water from the Colorado River just went into effect, and local water sources will also be impacted by drought.

What are the exemptions for fire prone areas?

There are no exemptions to maintain the hydration of gardens in fire prone areas.

What are the exemptions?

At the moment, there are two somewhat ambiguous exemptions for homeowners. The first is for hand-watering of trees. In the Las Virgenes Water District they’ve also exempted “other perennials.” The second is for subsurface drip irrigation, which is not limited to the time and date restrictions; however, it is restricted to using a similar volume of water, which should be enough to care for well-established native gardens.

There are no restrictions on recycled water. Watering at parks, sports parks and school fields is also exempted.

What do restrictions mean for my garden?

The new MWD guidelines are ambiguous and there may be great variation in their application at the local level. That said, we have a general sense of how steeply restricted water use will impact various types of gardens and what we can do to support their health.
Deep Mulch
Hardworking mulch is one of our best teammates! We recommend frequent replenishment and 3 inches of mulch in planted areas asap to preserve soil hydration and keep roots cool as temperatures rise. We can also leave leaf litter and mulch grasses to supplement actively spread mulch.
Smart Irrigation
The irrigation we install to support our design+build gardens is the most effective and most efficient available. These underground, drip systems are exempt from the 1x week and 8 minute water rules. If we installed overhead spray for a slope, these systems have similar efficiencies, and we will run them to maximize efficiency and compliance. Beyond the exempting factors, hydrozones and smart irrigation controllers further increase efficiency and our ability to adapt to changing regulations and weather.
There is no better investment than to protect trees. Your hydrozoned smart irrigation system was designed to support them as it services the rest of your garden. For those without smart irrigation, and when high heat is expected, we can deploy hand-watering and or use deep water stakes.
Native Plants
Native plants are the most adapted, resilient and drought tolerant available – and we select the most adaptable and locally-appropriate plants for each garden. Well-established natives will continue to thrive through cut-backs. Establishing natives will need the support of a well-calibrated smart irrigation system; deep, replenished mulch; hand-watering (which is actually quite efficient!); and watchful eyes.
Non-Native Plants
Non-native, existing plants incorporated into a FormLA design+build garden are well established and will survive on once per week watering.
Non-Natives + Turf + Sprinklers
Traditional gardens will be challenged in the coming months. We already take measures to minimize water use, including early morning watering, raised mower heights and mulching cut grass and planted areas. We will focus on the protection of trees and large, perennial shrubs, where there may be some exemptions. We can reduce water to 1x week and place on run/soak cycles for the remainder of the garden.
Fire Prone Areas
Hydration is one of the top qualities of a fire-defensive landscape. We’ve confirmed Las Virgenes is negotiating for exceptions and suspect other districts may do the same. Even as they do, there are several other defensive actions you can take to protect your property. We strongly urge you to take the most impactful steps, home hardening and maintenance of defensible space.


How can I tell how much water I’m using?

The LA County Water Work District offers free water use audits that identify leaks and inefficiencies as well as guide next steps for both interior+exterior spaces. We are also now offering in-depth irrigation efficiency assessments. It is rumored, yet we’ve yet to confirm ourselves, that such audits will be required of customers who have yet to have dramatically reduced water use in the past 5 years.

If you are so motivated, Mendicino provides detailed DIY audit instructions. As a guidepost, most water agencies want households to use less than 80 gallons per day and define 50 gallons a day as an efficient user.

Is there more I can do?

We love you for asking! With a native plant garden supported by smart irrigation design+built by us, you are not only saving water but helping to refuel your area’s groundwater table to boost LA’s long term resilience. You are already doing the right thing.
Here are possible next steps for near-term impact:

Go Inside: If you have yet to address indoor water use, we strongly recommend interior-focused next-steps, particularly if you are located in a fire-prone area. Some claim an update to efficient appliances can save 30 percent of a household’s water use without “without changing behavior.” There are grants and incentives available for washers and toilets.
Go Grey: Savings from greywater can be substantial but will depend on your water use. There are limits to the landscape elements it should water. Here are some of the tradeoffs and considerations.
Assess Irrigation: We offer assessments to our maintenance clients that go deeper than than our regular in-garden checks. Assessments can be scheduled 1x or 2x per year and will involve 6-18 additional hours where we will: change filters, identify clogs and inefficiencies, recalibrate smart controllers, retrofit for plant growth, check each valve’s efficiency, evaluate rain sensors, as well as add or update batteries, soil moisture sensors, flow monitors and submeters.
Longer term, additional water-positive features include:
Rain barrels: When rain falls, rain barrels catch it to provide supplemental water for container gardens and critical botanicals. Rebates are available, and we can help with installation.
Bioswales: Swales refuel deliver direct benefits to your garden during rainy season. As foliage absorbs more chemical-free stormwater, it is better equipped to withstand hot, dry summers. These features also refuel groundwater, facilitating the eventual independence of our water districts from MWD and related restrictions.
Replace Turf: Of course, if you still have turf grass, replacing it with a native plant garden or an IdealMow lawn or meadow can save so much more than water. MWD offers $2 per square foot rebates, and additional funds may be available from your water district. You can expect dramatic water savings as you kill the lawn, then resumption of water use for three years as you establish your garden, then decreasing water needs. Clients who’ve done so love the lawn-free life!


More Information

Get a Free Water Use Assessment (Interior+Exterior)
Check out MWD’s Residential Rebates (Interior+Exterior)
Get a Free Irrigation Survey
10 Fire Defensive Actions
Fight Fire with Maintenance
Get a Free Fire Ignition Zone Assessment
Why Your Artificial Turf is Burning