A master planned community battles California's drought with aggressive water conservation methods

A master planned community battles California's drought with aggressive water conservation methods

Plants are grouped according to water needs. Photos courtesy of SMR.

by Steve Magee


Despite the onset of El Nino, the drought in California continues to wreak havoc on agriculture, business and the state’s residents alike. Builders and developers are also affected and many have begun to look at both temporary and longer term strategies for addressing the region’s water shortage in their new home developments.

One new master planned community – Spring Mountain Ranch in Riverside, California – uses a number of drought resistant measures, home and irrigation technologies and landscaping efforts aimed at the conservation of this most valuable resource. The robust suite of water conservation and efficiency solutions being employed at Spring Mountain Ranch is a joint effort of the development team and local municipalities including iStar, KB Home, Riverside Highland, County of Riverside, CSA 126 and Sitescapes.

Each home has a weather sensor. 

Irrigation System Efficiency

The first set of water conservation measures integrated into Spring Mountain Ranch is the community’s irrigation systems. These employ a central control and an onsite weather station in a system, which allows all irrigation controllers to be linked to one control platform that can be easily maintained and monitored anytime anywhere. The real-time weather station updates all irrigation controllers within the community for adjustments on run times and shut downs and bases these directives on live measures for air temperature and air moisture. If an unfortunate leak or break occurs, water waste is minimal as the system automatically shuts down.

Point-to-point irrigation  system

The community also uses point-to-point irrigation systems that direct water straight to the roots of the plants. The average point-to-point drip system at Spring Mountain Ranch uses 24% less water than a conventional overhead spray system, which is only able to achieve 0.58% less water usage than what the County of Riverside mandates. When you consider this from the perspective of gallons saved, Tract 29597 at Spring Mountain Ranch saves 1,629,264 million gallons of water per year through combined plant material selections and efficient irrigation methods.

Community Landscaping Measures

Through the most advanced irrigation technologies on the market combined with selective planting design, Spring Mountain Ranch has greatly exceeded conventional systems to conserve California’s precious and scarce water resources. Landscape throughout the project is both drought resistant and utilizes water wise plant varieties.

Home Landscaping and Irrigation Controls

The community of Spring Mountain Ranch drills water conservation initiatives a step deeper with solutions applied to each home within the community. Each home front yard is landscape designed and plated in groupings according to each plant type’s water requirements. The high, moderate and low water groupings are then irrigated separately with a sub-surface drip irrigation system. Subsurface irrigation is one of the most water efficient as it eliminates all overspray run off of water onto sidewalks or hardscape.

Additionally, each residence garage includes one of the most powerful water saving components available today – an irrigation controller managing all irrigation water for the yard. The

Calsense irrigation controller

irrigation controller works with a weather station in each homeowner’s backyard. The weather station provides automated, real time response and adjustments to run times, air temperature and moisture. If it rains or freezes, the irrigation system automatically shuts off to prevent water from being used.

Compared to the maximum allowed water allowance under strict County of Riverside standards, the homes at Spring Mountain Ranch use 21% less water than allowed by the County.  This equates to an average per home saving of more than 4,752 gallons of water annually.

Integration of Home Technologies

A large-scale master planned community to be built in multiple phases, Spring Mountain Ranch will deliver 1,400 new homes upon completion. For phase one development, iStar partnered with KB Home, a leading public builder who is commonly recognized for its stewardship in sustainable building practices, which include water conservation. As such, all KB homes at the community include a number of water-saving features to help reduce usage and save money. These standard features include WaterSense® labeled faucets, toilets and showerheads. These specific fixtures help maximize water efficiency without sacrificing performance or comfort to residents. Additionally, dishwashers installed in the homes use significantly less water than standard marketplace models.

Non-Potable Well Refurbishment

In addition to all of the irrigation, landscaping and home technology conservation measures, iStar has on its own accord refurbished and upgraded two inactive, non-potable wells directly adjacent to the community site. The wells are designed to feed Spring Mountain Ranch’s non-potable onsite water reservoir, which is dedicated to landscape irrigation.

These wells not only provide irrigation to Spring Mountain Ranch, but will also ultimately benefit the surrounding community in the future. Because the aquifer that the wells draw from is high in nitrates, the water is ideal for the plants at Spring Mountain Ranch (nitrates generally speaking are good for plants as they aid in fertilization). And over a 15-25 year period of time, the wells will ultimately remove the nitrate-laden water from the aquifer, leaving drinkable water for potable distribution by Riverside Highland Water Company.


With the damage that the current drought has created in the state of California, as well as expert predictions that its effects will be felt for many years to come, water conservation techniques in new residential development are not only the “right” thing to do, they are an absolute necessity.Spring Mountain Ranch stands as a current master planned community case study on the varied techniques and technologies available to assist developers, builders and homeowners alike in the saving of water.

About Steve Magee

Steve Magee is Executive Vice President of Land for iStar, a developer of large-scale master plan communities designed to meet the needs of today’s diverse set of homebuyers. He can be reached via email.

Topics: Building Green, Gardening & Landscaping, Going Green, Plumbing & Fixtures, Sustainable Communities, Water Saving Devices, WaterSense

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