From Green Right Now Reports
In an effort to address Texas’ ongoing drought, two state lawmakers have proposed legislation that would free thousands of homeowners from having to water and maintain conventional sod lawns.
The bills, one in the House and one in the Senate, would forbid Homeowners Associations from stopping homeowners who want to xeriscape, a term that refers to planting native shrubs and plants that require little or no irrigation.
HOAs are the target because they typically have clauses binding homeowners to rules that require turf lawns to cover all or part of their lots.
Yet in drought-stricken Central Texas, and across the Southwest, many homeowners, particularly those living in neighborhoods outside of HOA reach, have adopted the environmentally friendly practice of xeriscaping.
The proposed bills are reminiscent of legislation passed last session that forbids HOA’s from denying homeowners the right to install solar panels.
Senate Bill 198, filed by Kirk Watson, a Democrat of Austin, would allow homeowners to compost grass clippings, leaves and brush and install rain barrels, as well as putting in “drought-resistant landscaping or water-conserving turf.”
House Bill 449, introduced by Dawnna Dukes, another Austin Democrat, would provide similar cover for homeowners wanting to install “xeriscaping” — defined in the bill as “a landscaping method that maximizes the conservation of water by using plants that are appropriate to the site and efficient water-use techniques.”
Under the house bill, HOAs could not “unreasonably restrict” a property owner from xeriscaping.
Both bills would be set to go into effect Sept. 1, 2013.
In January, Texas environmental groups issued a joint statement of support for the bills.
Clean Water Action, the Lone Star Sierra Club and Environment Texas reported that they endorse the efforts of Dukes and Watson to remove obstacles for homeowners wanting to install water-efficient landscaping.
The groups noted that the legislation is needed because most HOAs have mandatory codes or covenants that sharply restrict xeriscaping by mandating grass sod for front and side yards. But the times call for a change, the environmental leaders said.
"Texas faces an unprecedented water crisis, and we need to act now to promote water conservation
and eliminate barriers to conservation where they exist," said Jennifer Walker, Water Resources
Coordinator for the Lone Star Chapter, Sierra Club. "Lawn watering can account for 60% or more of a
typical homeowner’s overall water usage. Every Texan who chooses to do their part to reduce water
use should be allowed to do so. Water efficient landscapes offer an easy and obvious way to
“Many Texans are doing their part to save water amid one of the worst droughts in history,” said
Luke Metzger, Director of Environment Texas. “HOAs should not present obstacles that prevent
Texans from designing their landscaping in water efficient ways.”
"Neither of these bills will force a single homeowner to alter a single blade of grass if they don’t want
to" noted David Foster, State Director for Clean Water Action.
"But they will give homeowners the freedom to plant native plants and turf grasses, and save both water and money, if they do want to. It makes no sense to tell people they can’t take water conservation into their own hands."
Foster also pointed out that some Central Texas HOAs have recently amended their rules to allow xeriscaping,
including Avery Ranch and Circle C in Austin, and the Legends of Hutto in Williamson County. These
HOAs still require that all proposed changes in landscaping go before a committee for approval, but
allow or encourage native plants and turf grasses. However most other HOAs continue to ban or
severely restrict this practice.
"What the examples of Avery Ranch HOA and others show is that you do not need to cover your yard
with cacti or rocks to save water. You can install a water-efficient landscape that preserves the overall
harmony of a neighborhood while allowing homeowners to save water and money" said Foster.
"But we cannot afford to wait for each individual HOA to do the right thing. The time to act is now."