Thursday, June 11, 2015

Construction and the California Drought, Part 2: New Building Codes and the Partnership between Housing Authorities and Local Water Districts

The construction industry has a complicated relationship with the California drought, which is now getting close to a fifth year.  Gains in the construction industry helped the California economy bounce back from the effects of the recession, and it’s kept going at a sustained pace in order to meet the needs of a constantly growing population. To put any restrictions on construction in the midst of California’s water shortage doesn’t make a lot of sense, due to the above-mentioned housing demand and the economic boost that the industry facilitates.

However, last month, the State Water Resources Control Board approved emergency regulations which are intended to meet the 25% reduction in state water use ordered by the Governor. California authorities are taking steps to relieve water demands, allowing construction to proceed under more drought-friendly conditions. Then, on May 29th, the California Building Standards Commission approved emergency regulations revising the 2013 Green Building Standards that substantially reduce the amount of water that may be used by new developments. Under the new standards, new construction on an area of land larger than 2,500 square feet will have to meet lower water usage requirements.

These rules are intended to reduce the water that homeowners use on their lawns, requiring developers and contractors to use less grass and take other measures to limit water needs, thereby instituting more drought-resistant landscapes in California.  

Is there anything else that a builder will have to consider in the near future when it comes to water conservation and efficiency? In the early 2000’s, the California legislature passed Senate Bills 221 and 610, which aimed to enhance the relationship between new land development and water availability. As a result of these laws, especially during the drought, local water districts and community planning departments have been drawn closer together. 

Some of these effects have been described in a recent article in the Press-Enterprise. For the Yucaipa Valley Water District for example, the water allocation pattern has changed to put the community’s needs before that of new construction, and requires developers to pay for a certain amount of water which the water district will then set aside.

There are many ways in which government agencies, builders, landscapers and homeowners will have to work together to reach the water usage level ordered by the governor. We are already seeing plans move ahead to improve water efficiency, recycle water and of course, conserve. Reducing how much water we’re using on our lawns is just the first step that we have taken to address California’s extreme drought.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

How will the Drought Impact California’s Construction Industry?

Perhaps no issue has been more pertinent to Californians in recent times than the increasingly troubling drought, the worst in over a millennium, which is already beginning to affect residents in real ways. It appears that the future of the state will be determined by the response to the dwindling resource. The drought may be a major factor in how things shape up for the state of California in coming years and beyond. It’s worth it to take a look at how the current conditions are intersecting with residential, commercial and public construction in California and what the implications are for the state’s changing landscape.

A discussion about dealing with the water shortage can’t truly take place without getting clarity on the issue. It has been pointed out that by far the largest amount of water is consumed by the state’s agriculture, which has also been the hardest hit by the drought, with 80% of the resource being used by farmers.

Due to the state’s water rights, which put some at an advantage, farmers are already struggling, and the future of agriculture is uncertain. Some believe that changes to agricultural land are inevitable, either in the form of more suburban developments, or in the construction of the High Speed Rail, which may lead to increased urbanization.

For California contractors and developers, the drought may mean less suburban sprawl and more mixed-use buildings, or other water-saving considerations. For example, Orange County is currently dealing with a housing shortage for its growing population, but the drought presents difficulties for new home construction. Officials claim that water efficiency is one solution to new construction during a time when water conservation is imperative:

“Water officials and environmentalists say development can occur with improved conservation…For example, developments now use water-conserving fixtures and landscaping. The Santa Margarita Water District is partnering with developer Rancho Mission Viejo to capture urban runoff for irrigation.

There may also be a growing need for construction projects that will serve water conservation goals, such as desalination.

Contractors and homeowners are already seeing long term effects on the horizon, as local water districts consider restrictions on emptying swimming pools, as well as outright bans on the construction of new pools, while drought tolerant landscaping may replace green lawns in many California neighborhoods.  It seems clear that Californians will have to adapt to drought conditions in order for housing, construction and the economy to thrive.