With a goal of keeping Oro Valley green, or shades of desert browns and tans, the town council has approved a revamped landscape code.
Councilman K.C. Carter cast the sole dissenting vote among a shrunken council, with members Paula Abbott, Bill Garner and Barry Gillaspie absent.
Al Kunisch and Salette Latas joined Mayor Paul Loomis in approving the code revision that would require commercial and residential builders to use native and drought-resistant plants and numerous other water-saving measures in future developments.
"This is going to be very difficult to enforce," Carter said.
Carter said the new regulations would pose problems, primarily on the residential front.
"The thing has got a lot of loopholes," Carter said. "I feel it has flaws in it."
The new regulation codifies a list of approved plant species for use in residential and commercial development.
On the residential end, the regulation applies to front yards only. Residents remain free to plant most other species, excepting some invasive or prohibited varieties.
The code does apply to plantings in residential common and community maintained areas. Changes also apply to grading in developments. The new code would prohibit berms or hillocks, which encourage runoff, in favor of depressions that would channel and capture rainwater.
Planning and zoning will work to educate staffers on the code changes and use existing processes to enforce the new measures, said Bayer Vella, an Oro Valley planning official.
Vella said planning inspectors would incorporate the landscape code into the regular regime of inspections done when developments are under construction.
"Bottom line, this is about conserving water," Vella said.
Vella said the town's long-term goal is to reduce overall water consumption to 5,500 acre-feet per year. An acre-foot equals roughly 325,000 gallons, or enough water to cover an acre of land with a foot of water. According to some estimates, an acre-foot meets the annual water consumption demands for a family of four.
In 2008, residents consumed more than 7,800 acre-feet of potable water. The town also provided more than 1,700 acre-feet of reclaimed water, primarily to area golf courses.
Another aspect of the revised plan mandates water-saving irrigation methods. The revisions require development projects to use rainwater harvesting, irrigation systems that regulate water by shutting off when it rains, and to establish annual water plans.
Water plans would provide monthly and annual usage estimates. This aspect of the code would not apply to single-family homes.
Commercial properties and common areas in housing developments would be required to adhere to a water plan within three years of the issuance of occupancy. After five years, the property would have to reduce water consumption by 50 percent.
Separate meters for the irrigation system will monitor water usage. The water utility would track a development's usage and conformity to estimates in the water plan.
"It's like any other zoning enforcement," Vella said.
Property owners found in violation of the code would be notified and given the opportunity to rectify the discrepancies. If a solution can't be found, the town could issue fines.
"But that's not really where we want to go," Vella said. "We want to work with developers to implement water conservation."