Water conservation ordinances may be incorporated into codes in a number of different sections depending on the subject area. For example, landscaping requirements may be in the zoning or land use code and plumbing requirements in the building code. Zoning, subdivision, and site planning standards are typically unique to each community and reflect the community’s vision on how it wants to grow. However, when developing building codes, communities usually work from accepted models due to the technical nature of these codes. This means that plumbing, electrical, and mechanical codes are selected from a national or international standard. In the case of plumbing codes, this is often the National Plumbing Code or the Uniform Plumbing Code.
Incorporating plumbing efficiency standards into the development code, along with other water conservation standards for new development, can prompt a decision-making process that can lead to adoption of more conserving plumbing standards than the national norms. For example, the EPA WaterSense New Home Specifications include more efficient plumbing fixtures than the national standards and include specifications for on-demand hot water systems that can be readily adopted into local code. Several communities in Cochise County have adopted WaterSense plumbing codes.
WaterSense is a voluntary program that promotes a market for water efficient products, which must pass rigorous efficiency and performance testing by a third party to be WaterSense approved and labeled. These products are widely available through well-known retail outlets at reasonable prices. EPA’s WaterSense New Home Specification guidelines establish criteria by which a new home could be labeled WaterSense. These guidelines can be incorporated into an indoor water conservation code and include standards for the following: service pressure, hot water delivery systems, toilets and flushing urinals, bathroom and kitchen faucets, showerheads and shower compartments, dishwashers, clothes washers, evaporative coolers, water softeners, and drinking water treatment systems. While the EPA Specification includes guidelines for outdoor irrigation, they may be more appropriate for areas outside the Southwest and for larger communities. WaterSense products generally use 20% less than their conventional counterparts.
Combining water conservation and efficiency regulations into a separate chapter in a development code has several benefits. It allows for a coordinated evaluation of and update to all the community’s conservation standards; it highlights the importance of water conservation to the community as a component of development; and it presents all the water conservation requirements at a single location, which is an advantage to the public as well as to the development community.
The City of Sierra Vista development code contains a separate section (Article 151.16) devoted to water conservation requirements. Sierra Vista has been a water conservation leader in Arizona for many years, recognizing the importance of sustainable groundwater resources and maintenance of flow in the San Pedro River to retaining the area’s economic engine, Fort Huachuca. This history of water conservation policies and programs has made it possible for Sierra Vista to adopt stricter regulations over time with the support of the public and political decision-makers.
The stated purpose of the water conservation article is to reduce groundwater depletion, water waste, and per capita water use. In addition, the requirements strive to reduce the amount of cold water that unnecessarily goes down the drain as the water warms for use and to ensure that new home development meets or exceeds Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) WaterSense specifications for interior plumbing design.
Sierra Vista has been an EPA WaterSense program member since 2011, and it was the first community in Arizona to adopt the WaterSense guidelines for interior water use. These requirements are more stringent than existing federal and state standards. However, required fixtures are readily available, are becoming the market norm, and are cost-competitive. In addition to Sierra Vista, the cities of Bisbee and Tombstone, and Cochise County have also adopted an indoor WaterSense Code. The County’s code applies to a specified area near the San Pedro River.
The water conservation code clearly identifies water use regulations for new residential, commercial, industrial, multifamily, and public development. Some of the notable regulations for various water users include the following:
New single family residential homes are required to have WaterSense certified plumbing fixtures, on demand recirculating hot water distribution systems, and efficient water softener and drinking water treatment systems;
- New single family residential homes are prohibited from installing front yard turf;
- New commercial, industrial, multifamily and public construction must include WaterSense indoor fixtures, water recycling at car washes, Energy Star dishwashers and clothes washers, and individual units in multi-family development must be sub-metered;
- Outdoor mister systems are prohibited;
- Parks and golf courses must use medium and low water use plants unless allowed in certain areas;
- Golf courses are prohibited from using groundwater, must limit turf to five acres per hole, and are approved as conditional uses; and
- All water used in water features such as fountains must be recirculated.
City of Sierra Vista Development Code – Article 151.16 Water Conservation
City of Sierra Vista Planning and Zoning Department
- The Town of Payson Title V Public Works contains additional information in Chapter 50, Article 2 on Water Conservation.
- The EPA WaterSense Program is also a good source of information.
- WaterSense New Home Specification
- Western Resource Advocates also makes information available to communities through their materials, including Case for Conservation – Codes and Ordinances.