Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance: Barriers to Implementation

Study Title:

Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance: Barriers to Implementation (Pilot Study)

Background and Purpose:

It is estimated that about half of all water consumed in California’s urban areas goes to irrigate landscapes.  In 1993 the State of California enacted the Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance ((M)WELO) to minimize urban water waste by regulating landscaping design and installation for new construction projects.  In 2015, in response to ongoing drought, the governor of California mandated DWR to update and expand the (M)WELO mandate.  This update increased the complexity of the (M)WELO compliance process and challenged the capabilities of many Land Use Authorities responsible for enforcing the ordinance. 

In late 2019, DWR contracted with our research team at the University of California to implement an independent and CONFIDENTIAL study to assess the challenges facing Land Use Authorities around California in their efforts to comply with (M)WELO.  The purposes of this study are to 1) assess the experiences of city, county and water district offices in their attempts to comply with (M)WELO, 2) identify key challenges and constraints facing local authorities in trying to comply with (M)WELO and 3) develop recommendations to DWR for how best to support the efforts of local authorities and improve the (M)WELO compliance process for agencies and the public they serve.

Research Methods:

To properly fulfill the purposes of this study our UC research team will rely on data and information from various Land Use Authorities around California. We will collect this information using two methods.  First, a randomly selected list of city, county and water district agencies, responsible for implementing and administering (M)WELO, will be asked to complete a brief survey.  This survey will measure the extent of resources and expertise used for the purpose of administering (M)WELO.  Survey data will be used to identify constraints faced by agencies and the degree these constraints interfere with (M)WELO compliance.  Collection of survey data will be followed by a series of in-depth online interviews with local authorities.  The interviews will provide a more detailed description of the (M)WELO compliance process and the challenges agencies face. 

Confidentiality of Survey and Interview Data Collected

This study is conducted independently of the Department of Water Resources.  As such, the University of California research team will be responsible for collection and analysis of all data used in this study.  Any information shared either through the survey or in an interview will be considered proprietary to the UC research team and will be kept confidential.  No single responses or identifying information will be shared with DWR or other parties outside the University of California research team.  The final analysis of survey data will be presented in aggregate and direct quotes from interviews will be presented ANONYMOUSLY.  Interviewees and agencies will NOT be identified.

We encourage all study participants to share their knowledge and experience related to (M)WELO administration openly and honestly.  The more truthful the information used in our analysis the better our recommendations to DWR for how to improve the (M)WELO experience for all parties involved.

Project Timeline

Data collection for this project will begin this fall and continue through the winter.


David W. Fujino, Ph.D., Director of California Center for Urban Horticulture, UC Davis

William Matthews, Ph.D., Associate Project Scientist, Agricultural Issues Center, UC Davis