2022 Outstanding Public Engagement Award Winner

Water Smart Landscape Design Template Project

Sonoma-Marin Saving Water Partnership
Sonoma and Marin counties, California

Describe the goals of your program.

The Water Smart Landscape Design Template project is a response to the devastating October 2017 wildfires in Sonoma and Napa counties (California). With more than 5,000 homes destroyed, the task of rebuilding in the aftermath presented challenges and opportunities for the community and its resources. The goal of the program is to assist the region in the rebuild process by streamlining the permit process while encouraging the installation of water efficient, climate appropriate and sustainable landscapes that comply with local Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance requirements in addition to incorporating low impact development practices and on-site water reuse.

With stricter building codes, landscape requirements, high labor costs and underinsured losses, there was a need to help residents in any way possible. Sonoma Water and the Sonoma-Marin Saving Water Partnership (Partnership), a regional partnership of 13 water utilities in Sonoma and Marin counties in California, realized that landscapes had the potential to become both a financial and regulatory barrier to the rebuild process.

Together, the Partnership created eight different Water Smart Landscape Design Templates that are free to use, open source and customizable, and incorporate local Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance requirements, smart irrigation technologies and a variety of optional green infrastructure elements. There are four landscape styles with two different plans each: Sonoma Native Adaptive, Sonoma Contemporary, Sonoma Cottage and Sonoma Eco-Edible.

Each template contains professionally designed plan sheets for the layout and planting plan, irrigation plan, irrigation details, LID paving details, rain garden and swale details, planting details, graywater details and rainwater harvesting details.

The Water Smart Water Smart Landscape Design Templates became available for download on the Partnership website (https://www.savingwaterpartnership.org/programs_list/landscape-design-templates/) in May of 2018, just seven months after the fires. The plans are available free for anyone, anywhere to use for rebuilding, re-landscaping or new construction.

In December 2021, the Sonoma-Marin Saving Water Partnership published a companion guide, called the Water Smart Gardens Maintenance Manual, to assist Water Smart Landscape Design Template users and all home gardeners in understanding a nature-based approach to maintain their Water Smart Gardens. The guide covers topics like how to care for a newly planted landscape, when and how to perform tasks like pruning, making irrigation system adjustments, and more. The guide is also available for download on the Partnership website (www.savingwaterpartnership.org/programs_list/water-smart-gardens-maintenance-manual/). 

What need or problem are you trying to address with this program?

The project addresses a multitude of issues:

  • Assist in the recovery effort and rebuild process.
  • Reduce costs and other barriers to the rebuild process.
  • Streamline the building permit process for both the city and the residents.
  • Improve awareness and education of the statewide (California) and local (City of Santa Rosa, County of Sonoma) Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance requirements.
  • Provide easy to choose options to residents who were overwhelmed by the rebuild process.
  • Support the adoption of climate appropriate landscaping.
  • Encourage and enable the use of smart irrigation technologies including weather-based irrigation controllers and drip irrigation.
  • Encourage and enable sustainable landscape development and practices.
  • Promote the efficient use of water.
  • Enhance neighborhood aesthetics and habitat for wildlife.
  • Reduce peak season water demand (summer irrigation).
  • Support carbon sequestration.

Describe how the program increases engagement with residential and/or commercial end users in your community to promote outdoor water conservation.

Sonoma Water and the Partnership held a series of informational meetings and community input sessions and attended several community meetings and rebuild events to gather feedback and engage the community about rebuilding their landscapes. More than 160 people attended two community input sessions where the Partnership, landscape architects and community leaders met with residents to have a conversation about how our neighborhoods will look after we rebuild.

Community meetings held by both the City of Santa Rosa and the County of Sonoma were places to engage the public to both gather more input and to provide information on the resources that were available and under development. These events, held in school gyms and community centers, were well attended by the displaced communities throughout the burn areas. Once the Water Smart Landscape Design Templates were completed, the Partnership developed a two-part workshop series titled “Pathways to Rebuilding Landscapes.”

Part one provided an overview for residents and landscape professionals to learn about the features included in the Water Smart Landscape Design Templates, such as rain gardens or rainwater catchment systems, and how and why to include them in their rebuild project. Part one also covered the permitting process and how to prepare for the second workshop.

Part two consisted of a hands-on workshop for residents to modify their selected template to fit their site-specific conditions. The modifications were completed with the assistance of volunteers made up of trained advisors who work as professional landscape architects, designers and landscapers.

To raise awareness, Sonoma Water and the Partnership worked with Daily Acts, a local environmental action nonprofit, to host a contest for fire victims that lost a home to win one of four free landscape installs based on the Water Smart Landscape Design Templates, one in each of the four styles. Daily Acts coordinated the installation of the winners’ landscapes using volunteer labor from the community, providing an opportunity for people to contribute to the recovery effort, while broadening community awareness of the Water Smart Landscape Design Templates for use by all. These volunteers also gained experience and knowledge about reading the plans, preparing landscape sites, planting, mulching and installing irrigation systems.

Listing of engagements:

Sonoma Water and Partnership Events - Date/Event/Audience

  • Dec. 19, 2017/Information Meeting on the Rebuild Landscape Design Project/Landscape Architects and Design Professionals
  • Feb. 23, 2018/Rebuild Green Expo Sponsor, Session Speaker/Residential, Builder and Contractor Community
  • March 22, 2018/Landscape Design Community Involvement Meeting/Landscape Architects, Designers, Builders
  • March 28, 2018/Residential Rebuild Landscape Design Workshop/Residential Community
  • April 5, 2018/Residential Rebuild Landscape Design Workshop/Residential Community
  • May 5, 2018/Eco Friendly Garden Tour/Residential Community
  • Sept. 16, 2018/Landscape Template Advisor Training/Landscape Architects, Designers, Builders
  • Sept. 22, 2018/Master Gardeners Template Training
  • Sept. 29, 2018/Pathways to Rebuilding Workshop/Residential Community
  • Jan. 17, 2019/Pathways to Rebuilding Workshop Part 1/Residential Community
  •  Jan. 26, 2019/Pathways to Rebuilding Workshop Part 2/Residential Community
  • Feb. 22, 2019/Rebuild Green Expo Sponsor, Session Speaker/Residential, Builder and Contractor Community
  • March 28, 2019/Pathways to Rebuilding Workshop Part 1/Residential Community
  • March 29, 2019/Landscape Template Advisor Training/Landscape Architects, Designers
  • April 6, 2019/Pathways to Rebuilding Workshop Part 2/Residential Community
  • June 12, 2019/Pathways to Rebuilding Workshop Part 1/Residential Community
  • June 22, 2019/Pathways to Rebuilding Workshop Part 2/Residential Community
  • Oct. 12, 2019/Daily Acts Coffey Park Front Yard Landscape Installations/Residential Community

Engaging at Community Events - Date/Event/Audience

  • April 3, 2018/Larkfield Sanitation Community Meeting/Residential Community
  • April 17, 2018/CLCA North Coast Chapter Dinner Meeting/Landscape Industry
  • July 28, 2018/Rebuild Community Meeting - Sonoma Valley/Residential Community
  • March 16-18, 2018/Sonoma County Home and Garden Show/Residential Community
  • May 30, 2018/California Water Efficiency Partnership Peer to Peer 2018 Conference/Water Conservation Professionals
  • Aug. 9, 2018/Mark West Estates, Larkfield, Wikiup Community Meeting/Residential Community
  • Aug. 20, 2018/Sonoma County Master Gardeners Workshop/Master Gardeners
  • Oct. 4, 2018/Water Smart Innovations Conference/Water Industry Professionals
  • Feb. 20, 2019/North County Block Captains Meeting/Residential Community
  • March 21, 2019/Water Conservation Showcase/Water Industry Professionals, LEED Green Building Professionals
  • May 11, 2019/Community Resiliency Day/Residential Community
  • May 22, 2019/Water Smart Expo, City of Santa Rosa/Residential Community
  • June 24, 2019/Daily Acts Fire Recovery Program/Residential Community
  • Feb. 18, 2020/California Landscape Contractors Association North Coast Chapter Dinner Meeting/Landscape Professionals

Describe how the program incorporates education on smart technologies, efficient technologies, best practices or programs related to outdoor water conservation.

The Partnership hosted four, two-part workshops to provide an introduction to the Water Smart Landscape Design Templates and all of the design elements that work together to create a water efficient and sustainable landscape. Participants were provided an overview on how the Water Smart Landscape Design Templates incorporate a variety of sustainable design elements including climate appropriate low and medium (up to 25% of landscaped area) water use plants, edibles, turf grass alternatives, EPA Water Sense labeled smart irrigation controller, rain sensor, hydrozone based pressure compensating inline drip irrigation with check valves, dedicated hydrozone for trees to allow for separate irrigation during times of drought, anti-siphon irrigation valves with pressure regulation and filter, as well as optional green infrastructure including disconnected down spouts from building roofs, vegetated rain gardens and swales, rainwater harvesting cisterns, graywater systems, and multiple permeable pavement options to enhance permeability, infiltration and stormwater management. (See sample Water Smart Landscape Design Templatefor all features.)

Supporting documents were also developed to assist with using the Water Smart Landscape Design Templates and include an approved plant substitution list for low and medium water use plants and trees, a “desk manual” with instructions on how to use the templates, make modifications to the layout, planting plan and irrigation plan, adapt the plans to site conditions, make plant substitutions, and guidance for submitting the modified templates for permitting. The Partnership also collaborates with Daily Acts, a local non-profit group, to provide workshops to the community on rainwater catchment and graywater systems.  

The City of Santa Rosa completed architectural renderings for each plan to help users visualize the plans at various stages of growth. The renderings feature a street view of each landscape installed as shown on the templates and features three scenes: with mature trees, with young trees and without trees for easier viewing of the plant layout. The architectural renderings are available for viewing on the Partnership website.

A maintenance manual to guide template users on how to manage and maintain their new landscapes, incorporating best practices for irrigation, soil management, and pruning for plant health and fire fuel management was published in 2021 as the Water Smart Gardens Maintenance Manual.

How was the program’s success measured?

The primary measurement of the success of the program was the number of rebuilds that used the templates compared to the total number of permitted rebuilds. The community has welcomed the templates and are helping each other use the templates through volunteer efforts. Coffey Strong, a local neighborhood group, has developed a website featuring all of the plants on the approved plant substitution lists providing users with easy access to photos of the plants. https://sites.google.com/view/watersavinglandscapeplants/home

Other success metrics that are difficult to measure, but which have been strongly impacted by the program:

  • Beauty / revitalization of impacted area serves to enhance the quality of life of residents
  • Sustainable landscapes requires lower inputs such as water and fertilizer, and generate less green waste, and lower carbon emissions
  • Biodiversity of landscapes provides multiple benefits to birds, pollinators and other wildlife
  • Reduced, delayed, and cleaner stormwater flows to creeks and streams
  • Tree canopies provide shade reducing temperatures as well as habit for wildlife

As the rebuild progresses and more landscapes are installed, neighborhoods will thrive with beautiful, sustainable landscapes that enhance the quality of life of residents and wildlife by providing greenery, shade, habitat and food while requiring less water, less maintenance and green waste, and more.

Getting residents back into their homes is the main goal of program. With each Water Smart Landscape Design Templates submitted, permitted and installed, a home is that much closer to a completed rebuild project. The avoided cost of designing a custom permit eligible landscape plan is reinvested elsewhere in the process, building a stronger community. The installation of Water Efficiency Landscape Ordinance compliant landscapes through the fire rebuild is also an important goal of the Water Smart Landscape Design Templateprogram. With building permits for homes in the rebuild areas being approved with the use of the Water Smart Landscape Design Templates as the plans for the landscapes, the program is succeeding in getting sustainable, climate appropriate landscapes installed.

What are the results of the program to date?

Over 40% of all rebuilt homes in the region have utilized the Water Smart Landscape Design Templates. Based on the number of permits issued using the templates, it is estimated that the new front yard landscapes will use approximately 8.7 million gallons less water each year than would have been used if typical turf landscapes had been reinstalled. A savings of about 2.2 million gallons per year is expected over a standard Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance compliant landscape.