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Buckeye Council approves many water code changes

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The Buckeye City Council approved one of the most extensive single set of changes to its water code in recent memory during its Dec. 7 meeting.

By a unanimous vote, the council approved 16 conservation changes to water code, with changes focusing on new construction. The changes will mostly go into effect March 1, 2022, giving the city time to educate residents, prospective residents and contractors on new restrictions.

The main focus of the restrictions is to prevent contractors or residents from creating grassy areas simply for aesthetics going forward.

The restrictions that are related to natural turf would only apply to unused turf — turf that is only used for a visual effect, as opposed to grass used for recreation or pet exercising.

Restrictions will not apply to turf that is watered with effluent, or recycled water.

The new restrictions related to natural turf would only apply to homes, common areas and city facilities built after March 1, 2022 — with one exception. Winter overseeding of Bermuda grass with ryegrass will no longer be permitted anywhere, regardless of construction date.

The council-approved city of Buckeye Water Resources Master Plan requires the city to continually strengthen its water conservation program to supplement to city’s water code, put in place about 17 years ago.

“We’re putting the main focus on education,” rather than penalty enforcement, said Alisha Solano, Buckeye water resources director. To that end, she said, not only is there meant to be a clearer focus on consumer direction, but also the city’s misdemeanor penalty for water violations has been eliminated and the schedule of fines for violations has been scaled back.

One main change to the fine schedule is to scale back from what is currently a maximum of $2,500 for a violation of the water code. The new fines are $150 for the first violation not corrected within 30 days, $250 for the second and $500 for third or subsequent offenses.

Ron Whitler, a hydrologist, said city staff did significant outreach last spring to water companies and to the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona. Staff went to council in June for direction, then reached out to homeowners associations regarding their concerns.

Whitler said associations representing Verrado and Blue Horizons were supportive of new proposed codes.

In the fall, staff gathered public input, which was mixed in nature. Some residents told the staff the codes didn’t go far enough to ensure real conservation.
Whitler said the time before the March 1 implementation date will be well-used. He also doesn’t anticipate many contentious conversations with city residents about fines.

“This will provide sufficient time to educate the developers and public regarding the new water conservation provisions,” Whitler said. “We see fines being assessed rarely, or maybe not at all. We really want to focus on the education component.”

Whitler said one goal will be to move all city residences and businesses toward having the most efficient water pumping and measuring equipment that is practical. He said the city won’t encourage anyone to rip out older, functional water equipment, but as items age and need to be replaced, the city will encourage use of more efficient hardware.

“Wait until the equipment you use now wears out,” Whitler said.

The adoption of 16 additional water conservation codes sections will apply not only to the city of Buckeye, but in some cases to city of Buckeye rights of way, city facilities and relevant irrigation districts.

“When don’t out to look for violations,” Solano said. “But if city employees are out, and we see some type of violation, we’ll knock on someone’s door and educate them on best practices.”

Councilors Clay Goodman and Jeanine Guy encouraged the city’s water department to do as much outreach as possible to let the public know about the new restrictions.

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