On May 9, 2017, as part of the City of Santa Monica’s strategy to achieve water self-sufficiency by 2020, City Council adopted the Water Neutrality Ordinance. The law caps water use for developments to the historical five-year average for the site. Keeping water usage at today’s level, the lowest since the early 1990s, will help the community better manage its limited groundwater supplies and the uncertain effects of climate change.
The ordinance will go into effect on July 1, 2017. All projects in plan check, or that have received a building permit before June 30, 2017, will not need to comply with the new law.
The water neutrality ordinance does not allow new residential and commercial developments and new or enlarged pools, spas, water features, and ponds to exceed the historical water use for the site. Here’s an example of what water neutrality looks like: If a proposed mixed-use development is projected to use 400,000 gallons of water each year and the historical use on the parcel is 150,000 gallons a year, the new development would have to offset 250,000 gallons each year. The ordinance does not apply to kitchen and/or bathroom remodels or minor renovations.
The means to get to water neutrality is through the installation of water-efficient fixtures and systems on-site. If this isn’t possible, and the building doesn’t comply with the law, the additional water use must be offset elsewhere in the community. The City will provide a fee-based turnkey retrofit program and/or the applicant can install retrofits at their own cost in sites selected by the applicant.
A consultant will provide design assistance to educate new development applicants about the various water saving devices and systems, such as greywater systems, recirculating hot water systems, irrigation systems, toilets, etc., that would help achieve compliance. For projects required to offset water use, fees will be charged to cover the City’s cost to achieve the offsets.
Projects will be required to determine their water demand using a calculator available online at the end of June at sustainablesm.org/water.
There are two options for offsets:
- Direct Install Option: Requires an in-lieu fee, which will vary depending on how much water needs to be saved. The City will create a list of existing properties that want to have new toilets, showerheads, and faucet aerators installed as part of the City’s Direct Install Option. These pre-registered sites would receive these fixtures free of charge.
- Developer Installation Option: The developer must find their properties and perform the installations. The City will inspect each installation.
A Water Neutrality Stakeholder Committee was established at City Council direction to assist staff in developing the ordinance. The group is comprised of a diverse group of stakeholders, including water agencies, non-governmental organizations, sustainability consultants, architects, developers, manufacturers, engineers, plumbers, Los Angeles County; the City’s Water Advisory Committee; and staff from Public Works, Planning and Community Development, and the City Attorney’s Office. They will continue to meet to establish compliance guidelines.
“We listened to our constituents and experts in order to craft something bold and effective to help ensure there is plenty of water for future generations of Santa Monicans,” said Kim O’Cain, Senior Sustainability Analyst.
For more information or to get on the list to receive new water-saving devices, please visit sustainablesm.org/water. Read an FAQ sheet for more details or contact [email protected] or 310-458-8972 ext. 2.