Irrigation Restrictions

Updated May 8, 2024

We should all be aware by now that the weather patterns are changing. We are seeing record wet years cycled with record drought years in a pattern now referred to as weather whiplash. Our area also continues to add new homes. To plan for the future needs of the State, California has been setting water conservation rules and goals to be implemented by water districts and cities. The City of Lake Forest has been imposing additional goals as well. An HOA is responsible for managing shared irrigated property and must address the needed changes to meet the future water use requirements.

For more than 10 years, the State of California, The City of Lake Forest, and IRWD, have been urging homeowners and HOAs to improve their water conservation habits. IRWD has offered classes and rebates to help learn about and finance landscape changes to help with water conservation. And, several local water districts have joined efforts in creating the H2O for HOAs awareness program.

On July 21, 2022 we were informed that our HOA must comply with the California State “Second Water Conservation Emergency Regulation of 2022 (May/June 2022)”.

On March 20, 2023, the California Water Board announced the next step in creating a long-term rule making framework to comply with the 2018 Assembly Bill 1668 and Senate Bill 606. These California Statutes address “Making Conservation a California Way of Life“. This is expanding on changes already in effect and the result of State legislation.

In October 2023, Assembly Bill 1572 made the emergency watering restrictions permanent, including irrigating non-functional turf using potable water. The precise definition of functional turf is still being refined, but is generally understood to mean ground cover surface of mowed grass used for recreational or community held events. For now, HOAs are allowed to determine what turf areas are functional and which are not, but by 2028, compliance to stricter definitions must be defensible by the HOA or face fines up to $500/day which can be per irrigation meter. (Serrano Park has 11 potable water irrigation meters) This bill also states that all non-functional turf in certain areas must be removed by 2028. Currently, this does not apply to residences.

In short, we must immediately stop irrigating non-functional turf (ornamental-only turf) with potable water and start replacing all non-functional turf. The Landscape Committee is working closely with IRWD, our HOA Board, and Harvest Landscape, and others, to comply with this mandate.

The Landscape Committee is working on near zero-cost turf removal projects with our soon-to-be-dead turf as priority areas.

Course of Action

July 28, 2022 – The Board directed the Landscape Committee to work with IRWD and Harvest to comply with the state mandate, and to keep the Board appraised of the actions being taken, the progress being made, and any issues.

November 11, 2022 – We have complied by turning off the irrigation to approximately 4.5 acres of property and posted signs that drought restrictions are in place. Much of this area contains trees that will be irrigated every 2 weeks to protect the trees. All of this turf is expected to die in the near future, but with rain and irrigating the trees, we hope it will last long enough to apply for rebates to upgrade these areas to non-turf plants. Currently, this represents about $1.1M in rebates to be used for turf and sprinkler replacement. Turf replacement rebates only apply to grass (living and dead), not to dirt that was once grass.

April, 2023 – The Serrano Park Board of Directors approved its first ever turf replacement project to be fully financed by available rebate funds. This is expected to be the beginning of several such projects to replace the turf we are no longer allowed to irrigate.

Exempt Areas

NOTE: Exempt areas still have water allotments and still require efficient irrigation.

  • Areas not irrigated with potable water.
    • Sombra Park (across from the Clubhouse) and a small portion of the Paseo Sombra Street Trees.
    • Trabuco from Paseo Sombra to the church.
    • Trabuco from Paseo Tranquilo to Via del Rio.
    • Sendero Channel.
  • Non-turf areas
    • All embankments and other areas devoid of turf.
  • Functional turf areas
    • Center oval area in Abeto Park and some additional turf used for events such as Family Fun Day and Movie Night.
    • Certain areas in the main green belt commonly used for recreation by homeowners.
  • Erosion control turf (This turf may be allowed under new legislation that expected to pass later in 2024)
    • Most of Cipres Channel, except elevated flat areas
    • Much of the Main Green Belt, except elevated flat areas. All of the area near the Clubhouse

Excerpts from AB1572:

Page 1, section (3):

“This bill would prohibit the use of potable water, as defined, for the irrigation of nonfunctional turf located on commercial, industrial, and institutional properties, other than a cemetery, and on properties of homeowners’ associations, common interest developments, and community service organizations or similar entities, as specified. The bill would authorize the State Water Resources Control Board to create a form for compliance certification and would require owners of covered properties to certify their compliance, as specified. The bill would authorize a public water system, city, county, or city and county to enforce these provisions, as specified.”

Definitions in AB1572:

Page 4-7:

(m) “Functional turf” means a ground cover surface of turf located in a recreational use area or community space. Turf enclosed by fencing or other barriers to permanently preclude human access for recreation or assembly is not functional turf.

(u) “Nonfunctional turf” means any turf that is not functional turf, and includes turf located within street rights-of-way and parking lots.

(aa) “Recreational use area” means an area designated by a property owner or a governmental agency to accommodate human foot traffic for recreation, including, but not limited to, sports fields, golf courses, playgrounds, picnic grounds, or pet exercise areas. This recreation may be either formal or informal.

10608.14. (a) The use of potable water for the irrigation of nonfunctional turf located on commercial, industrial, and institutional properties, other than a cemetery, and on properties of homeowners’ associations, common interest developments, and community service organizations or similar entities is prohibited as of the following dates:

… (4) All common areas of properties of homeowners’ associations, common interest developments, and community service organizations or similar entities, beginning January 1, 2029.

(e) … (2) An owner of a property with more than 5,000 square feet of irrigated common area that is a homeowners’ association, common interest development, or community service organization or similar entity shall certify to the board, commencing June 30, 2031, and every three years thereafter through 2040, that their property is in compliance with the requirements of this chapter.

Definition in current mandate and original draft of AB1592:

(5) “Non-functional turf” means turf that is solely ornamental and not regularly used for human recreational purposes or for civic or community events. Non-functional turf does not include sports fields and turf that is regularly used for human recreational purposes or for civic or community events.

Lake Forest City Goals

The Environmental Impact Report for the city’s 2040 plan, relies on all potable water usage in the city for landscape irrigation to be reduced to less than 10% of the total potable water usage. This includes homeowners as well as HOAs.

The Serrano Park Landscape Committee recognizes the need to:

  • Change much of our turf to lower water use plants according to State and local guidelines.
  • Change from sprinklers to drip and other more efficient irrigation systems where possible.
  • Improve irrigation efficiencies by improving controller programming and weather tracking systems.
  • Reduce water waste by installing main shutoff valves and flow monitoring sensors.
  • Reduce community water waste by educating homeowners about their own practices.
  • Reduce water requirements by improving soil water retention and bio-activity.
  • Improve rain water capture in new landscape projects.
  • Utilize available rebate programs to fund most of these changes when possible.

These changes take good planning, patience, and unwavering dedication to long-term goals, items HOAs are not famous for. But failure will result in severely declining landscape, greatly increased community costs, and ultimately in large assessments.