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Integrated Vegetation Management Policy

Amended January 2015



12.001 General
The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (“SFPUC”) is responsible for the delivery of potable water and the collection and treatment of wastewater for some 800,000 customers within the City of San Francisco; it is also responsible for the delivery of potable water to 26 other water retailers with a customer base of 1.8 million. The following policy is established to manage vegetation on the transmission, distribution and collection systems within the SFPUC Right of Way (“ROW”) so that it does not pose a threat or hazard to the system’s integrity and infrastructure or impede utility maintenance and operations.

The existence of large woody vegetation1, hereinafter referred to as vegetation, and water transmission lines within the ROW are not compatible and, in fact, are mutually exclusive uses of the same space. Roots can impact transmission pipelines by causing corrosion. The existence of trees and other vegetation directly adjacent to pipelines makes emergency and annual maintenance very difficult, hazardous, and expensive, and increases concerns for public safety. The risk of fire within the ROW is always a concern and the reduction of fire ladder fuels within these corridors is another reason to modify the vegetation mosaic. In addition to managing vegetation in a timely manner to prevent any disruption in utility service, the SFPUC also manages vegetation on its ROW to comply with local fire ordinances enacted to protect public safety.

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 ROW and to implement integrated pest management (IPM).

12.002 Woody Vegetation Management

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

1.1 Emergency Removal

SFPUC Management reserves the right to remove any vegetation without prior public notification that has been assessed by a SFPUC qualified professional as an immediate threat to transmission lines or other utility infrastructure, human life and property due to acts of God, insects, disease, or natural mortality.

1.2 Priority Removal

Vegetation that is within 15 feet of the edge of any pipe will be removed and the vegetative debris will be cut 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 ROW 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 within 15 to 25 feet from pipelines will then be removed.

1.3 Standard Removal

Vegetation that is more than 25 feet from the edge of a pipeline and up to the boundary of the ROW will be assessed by a SFPUC qualified professional for its age and condition, fire risk, and potential impact to the pipelines. Based on this assessment, the vegetation will be removed or retained.

1.4 Removal Standards

Each Operating Division will develop its own set of guidelines or follow established requirements in accordance with local needs.

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, adhering to provisions of Chapter 3 of the San Francisco Environment Code.

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.

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. All vegetation removal work and/or treatment will be made on a case-by-case basis by a SFPUC qualified professional.

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 ROW 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 its own set of guidelines in accordance with local need.

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

12.003 Annual Grass and Weed Management

Annual grasses and weeds will be mowed, disked, sprayed or mulched along the ROW 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 season.

12.004 Segments of ROW that are covered by Agricultural deed rights

The only vegetation that may be planted within the ROW on those segments where an adjacent owner has Deeded Agricultural Rights will be: non-woody herbaceous plants such as grasses, flowers, bulbs, or vegetables.

12.005 Segments of ROW that are managed and maintained under a Lease or License

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

Within the above segments, the cost of vegetation maintenance and removal will be borne by the tenant or licensee 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 guideline for the size at maturity of plants (small trees, shrubs, and groundcover) that may be permitted to be used as landscape materials. Note: All distance measurements are for mature trees and plants measured from the edge of the drip-line to the edge of the pipeline.

  • Plants that may be permitted to be planted directly above existing and future pipelines: shallow rooted plants such as ground cover, grasses, flowers, and very low growing plants that grow to a maximum of one foot in height at maturity.
  • Plants that may be permitted to be planted 15–25 feet from the edge of existing and future pipelines: shrubs and plants that grow to a maximum of five feet in height at maturity.
  • Plants that may be permitted to be planted 25 feet or more from the edge of existing and future pipelines: small trees or shrubs that grow to a maximum of twenty feet in height and fifteen feet in canopy width.

illustrated graphic of ROW guidelines
Click to enlarge

Trees and plants that exceed the maximum height and size limit (described above) may be permitted within a leased or licensed area provided they are in containers and are above ground. Container load and placement location(s) are subject to review and approval by the SFPUC.

Low water use plant species are encouraged and invasive plant species are not allowed.

All appurtenances, vaults, and facility infrastructure must remain visible and accessible at all times. All determinations of species acceptability will be made by a SFPUC qualified professional.

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 SFPUC 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.

1Woody vegetation is defined as all brush, tree and ornamental shrub species planted in (or naturally occurring in) the native soil having a woody stem that at maturity exceeds 3 inches in diameter.
2A stand is defined as a 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.

3Initial removal is defined as the vegetation removed during the base year or first year of cutting.

4Secondary vegetation is defined as the vegetative growth during the second year following the base year for cutting.

Last updated: 4/16/2015 1:05:09 PM