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13.001 General

The following policy is established to manage vegetation on the distribution and collection systems that poses a threat or hazard to the system's integrity and infrastructure. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission is responsible for the conveyance of potable water and recovery of wastewater for some 780,000 customers within the City of San Francisco; it is also responsible for the conveyance of potable water to 29 other water retailers with a customer base of 1.5 million.

The existence of large woody vegetation1, hereinafter referred to as vegetation, and water transmission lines are not compatible and in fact are mutually exclusive uses of the same space. It has been our experience that roots can impact transmission pipelines by causing corrosion to the outer casements. It has also been our experience that the existence of trees and other vegetation directly adjacent to pipelines makes emergency and annual maintenance very difficult, hazardous, expensive and increases concerns for public safety. The fire danger within the rights-of-way is always a concern and the reduction of fire ladder fuels within these corridors is another reason to modify the vegetation mosaic. The SFPUC must comply with local fire ordinances thus requiring that existing vegetation must be identified, reduced, and managed in an appropriate and timely manner to prevent any potential disruption in service.

One of the other objectives of this policy is to reduce and eliminate as much as practicable the use of herbicides on vegetation within the right-of-way.

13.002 Woody Vegetation Management

1.0 Vegetation of any size or species will not be allowed to grow within certain critical portions of the rights-of-way, pumping stations or other facilities as determined by a SFPUC qualified professional, and generally in accordance with the following guidelines.

1.1 Emergency Removal
Vegetation that has been assessed by SFPUC Management to pose an immediate threat to the transmission lines, human life and property due to acts of God, insects, disease, or natural mortality will be removed without prior public notification.

1.2 Priority Removal
Vegetation that is within 15 feet of the edge of any pipe will be cut down, bucked up into short lengths and chipped whenever possible. Chips will be spread upon the site where the vegetation was removed. Material that cannot be chipped will be hauled away to a proper disposal site.

If vegetation along the rights-of-way is grouped in contiguous stands2, or populations, a systematic and staggered removal of that vegetation will be undertaken to replicate a natural appearance. Initial removal3 will be vegetation immediately above or within 15 feet of the pipeline edges, secondary vegetation4 to be removed will be those that are 15 to 25 feet from the edge of the pipes.

1.3 Standard Removal
Vegetation that is more than 25 feet from the edge of a pipeline and up to the boundary of the right-of-way will be assessed by a SFPUC qualified professional on its age and condition, fire risk, potential impact to the pipe lines, and will be removed or retained in a like manner as stated above as deemed necessary.

1.4 Removal Standards
Each Operating Division will develop their own set of guidelines or follow established requirements in accordance with the needs and demands of their local zones of influence.

2.0 All stems of vegetation will be cut flush with the ground and where deemed necessary or appropriate, roots will be removed. All trees identified for removal will be clearly marked with paint and/or a numbered aluminum tag.

3.0 Sprouting species of vegetation will be treated with herbicides where practicable and adhering to provisions of the pesticide ordinances.

4.0 Erosion control measures, where needed, will be completed before the work crew or contractors leave the work site or before October 15 of the calendar year as those measures are needed.

5.0 Department personnel will remove in a timely manner any and all material that has been cut for maintenance purposes within any stream channel.

6.0 All vegetation removal work and consultation on vegetation retention will be reviewed and supervised by a SFPUC qualified professional on a case-by-case basis.

7.0 Notification process for areas of significant resource impact that are beyond regular and ongoing maintenance:

7.1 County/City Notification – The individual Operating Division will have sent to the affected county/city a map showing the sections of the rights-of-way which will be worked, a written description of the work to be done, the appropriate removal time for the work crews, and a contact person for more information. This should be done approximately 10 days prior to start of work. Each Operating Division will develop their own set of guidelines in accordance with the needs of their local zones of influence.

7.2 Public Notification
– The Operating Division will have notices posted at areas where the vegetation is to be removed with the same informaiton as above also approximately 10 days prior to removal. Notices will also be sent to all adjacent residents within 300 feet of the removal site. Posted notices will be 11” by 17” in size on colored paper and will be put up at each end of the project area and at crossover points through the right-of-way. Questions and complaints from the public will be handled through a designated contact person. Each Operating Division will develop their own set of guidelines in accordance with the needs of their local zones of influence.

13.003 Annual Grass and Weed Management

Annual grasses and weeds will be mowed, disked, sprayed or mulched along the rights-of-way as appropriate to reduce vegetation and potential fire danger annually. This treatment should be completed before July 30 of each year. This date is targeted to allow the grasses, forbs and weeds to reach maturity and facilitate control for the reason.

13.004 Segments of Right-of-Way that are covered by Agricultural deed rights

The only vegetation that will be allowed to be planted within the right-of-way on those segments where an adjacent neighbor has Deeded Agricultural Rights will be: non woody herbaceous plants such as grasses, flowers, bulbs, or vegetables.

13.005 Segments of Right-of-Way that are managed and maintained on a Leased or Permit basis

Special allowance may be made for these types of areas, as the vegetation will be maintained by the permitted user as per agreement with the City and not allowed to grow unchecked. Only shallow rooted plants will be allowed to be planted directly above the pipes.

Within the above segments the cost of vegetation maintenance and removal will be born by the permittee or lessee exclusively. In a like fashion, when new vegetative encroachments are discovered they will be assessed by a SFPUC qualified professional on a case-by-case basis and either be permitted or proposed for removal.

The following is a suggested list of drought tolerant plants and shrubs that may be permitted to be used as landscaping materials:

Listing of Plants that may be permitted to be planted directly above existing and future pipelines

Agapanthus Bergenia Blue Fescue Blue Oat Grass Cranesbill Daylilies
English Ivy Erigeron Fortnight Lily Fountain Grass Gaillardia Gaura
Gazania Germander Ice Plants Iris Lantana Lavendar
Lily Mexican Sage Monkey flower Penstemon Periwinkle Poppy
Primrose Rock Rose Sage Santolina Santa Barbara Daisy Sea Pink
Sea Statice Shrub Rose Trumpet Vine Wallflower Yarrow  



Listing of Shrubs that may be permitted to be planted 15 feet from edge of existing and future pipelines

Australian Blue Creeper Australian Fuschia Australian Tea Tree Barberry Bush Anemone Catalina Cherry
Ceanothus Coffeeberry Cotoneaster Cultivars of each species Currant Dwarf Olive
Escallonia Garrya Grevillea Hollyleaf Cherry Indian Hawthorn Manzanita
Mahonia Oleander Pacific Wax Myrtle Pineapple Guava Pittosporum Rosemary
Sarcococca Strawberry Tree Sugar Bush Toyon Westringia Xylosma


13.006 Trees on the Right-of-Way

Trees of any species will be allowed within a permitted or leased area provided they are in containers and are above ground. Trees of an acceptable species may remain or be planted in the ground along the outer edges of the right-of-way provided that the following requirements are met:

  1. No trees (regardless of species) will be permitted on or within 15' of any pipeline edge.

  2. The following tree species* may permitted beyond 15' from any pipeline edge:

    Dogwood Dwarf citrus Dwarf fruit Redbud
  3. The following tree species* may permitted beyond 25' from any pipeline edge:

    Alder Birch Buckeye Crab Apple Fig Hawthorn
    Holly Hornbeam Maple Mulberry Nutmeg Olive
    Quince Regular Citrus Regular Fruit Smoketree Sweet Gum Tulip Tree


  4. The following tree species* are not permitted on any right-of-way property:

    Acacia Arbor-vitae Ash Basswood Bay Beech
    Black Walnut Catalpa Cedars Chestnut Cottonwood Cypress
    Elms English Walnut Eucalyptus Firs Hemlock Hickory
    Ginkgo Juniper Larch Locust Madrone Magnolia
    Oaks Pines Poplar sp. Plane Redwood Sycamore
    Tree of Heaven Willows



Note: All distance measurements are for mature trees measured from the edge of the trees drip-line to the edge of the pipeline.

* Cultivars of species listed above will be judged on a case-by-case basis based on predicted grown characteristics. All determinations of species acceptability will be made by SFPUC Forester or other qualified SFPUC staff.

The above policy is for general application and for internal administration purposes only and may not be relied upon by any third party for any reason whatsoever. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission reserves the right at its sole discretion, to establish stricter policies in any particular situation and to revise and update the above policy at any time.


  1. Woody Vegetation. All Brush, Tree and Ornamental Shrub Species planted in or naturally occurring in the native soil that have a woody stem that at maturity exceeds 3 inches.
  2. Stand. Community of trees possessing sufficient uniformity in composition, structure, age, arrangement, or condition to be distinguishable from adjacent forest communities to form a management unit.
  3. Initial removal. Base year or first year of cutting.
  4. Secondary vegetation. Second year following the base year for cutting.

Updated on 2/20/07

Last updated: 6/24/2011 11:44:55 AM