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Homeowners may win right to let lawns turn brown

Should homeowners associations be able to force residents to water their yards, even during a drought?

Oregon legislators plan to tackle that question during next month’s session.

Although December saw record rains, drought will continue to impact the state, Rep. Susan McLain, D-Hillsboro, told a House committee Friday.

McLain is proposing a bill that would allow property owners to conserve water by not watering, even if their homeowners association requires it.

“It would not force anyone to do anything,” Brian Posewitz, staff attorney for WaterWatch of Oregon, said in written testimony. “It would simply allow conscientious citizens to do the right thing by reducing or eliminating water consumption that is not necessary for any basic human need or activity.”

The proposal is supported by the League of Oregon Cities, Special Districts Association of Oregon and Trout Unlimited, as well as the city of Gresham and Clackamas River Water Providers, a coalition of Willamette Valley water providers.

“I think the green-lawn era is dead,” said Tom Wolfe, a lobbyist for Trout Unlimited. “Who needs a green lawn?”

Homeowners association watering requirements could even compromise a city’s ability to comply with its federally mandated Water Management and Conservation Plan, said Brian Stahl, Gresham’s deputy director of environmental services.

California passed a similar law in 2014. It followed an executive order Gov. Jerry Brown issued barring homeowners groups from penalizing members who conserve water during a drought.

Oregon has endured four consecutive years of drought. In July, fish began dying from low stream flows and high temperatures, leading the state to curtail fishing hours. And cities across the state asked residents to curtail water use.

No one testified against the proposal. A similar bill is expected to be introduced in the Senate.

Read the article from The Statesman Journal HERE