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Little water savings can add up to big water savings

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POSTED April 2, 2015 1:40 a.m.

If we continue to use water like there is no tomorrow there will be no tomorrow. It’s as simple as that.

Sierra snowpack is at 6 percent of normal. New Melones Reservoir is heading toward puddle status. Underground aquifers— with more people switching to wells to replace surface water — are going nowhere but down. We are clearly in a fourth year of severe drought.

It is worse than 1976-77 for 16,000,001 reasons. First there are more regulatory restrictions based on minimum fish flows. And there are 16 million more Californians today than 38 years ago.

The possibility we are in a mega-drought —which has nothing to do with the debate over man-induced climate change — is strong. That means lean water and snow years could continue for the next three to five decades based on evidence gleaned from tree rings.

More storage may ultimately help but not by much.

The real solution for long-term water needs is for everyone to become more prudent when they use water.

The good news is we have been doing that to a degree. Since 1976-77 per capita water consumption has dropped significantly in California primarily due to low-flow shower heads, low-flow toilets and water efficient washing machines.

Los Angeles — the target of ire from Northern Californians when it comes to water — actually now has a lower per capita use of water than Manteca and much of the rest of the state north of the Tehachapi Mountains. That’s the opposite of what it was in 1977.

Agriculture has significantly reduced water use while at the same time increasing production. Just like with urban users, farmers can still find additional ways to save water. But it is safe to say that has been the mantra of farmers for years. That’s because water costs them money whether they buy it from surface sources or pay for electricity to pump it from wells. The more they use, the more it costs. And using too much water on crops can be as bad as not enough.

Many farms unlike urban water customers of the Bureau of Reclamation and State Water Project have gone a year already without water. 

If you like to eat and don’t want food prices to go into the stratosphere you might want to stop using farmers as the drought whipping boy.

The United States Department of Agriculture points out 43 percent of this nation’s farm acreage devoted to fruits, vegetables and nuts are in California. That’s a lot of food production in jeopardy.

And does anyone really want to see fish populations wiped out by the drought?

That brings us to the theory being floated that large savings in acre feet and not small savings are what we need to get through the drought.

Cut more water use to farms and we will significantly reduce food supplies. Almond growers, for example, in the South San Joaquin Irrigation District will all probably get crops to market this year by tapping into ground water to supplement surface delivers. Go farther south in irrigation districts such as Merced, Modesto, and Turlock there are farmers that don’t have the luxury of falling back on well water who will be fighting to keep trees and vines alive. A marketable crop isn’t even in the cards this year.

A solid argument can be made to tweak fish flows below regulatory minimums but given other issues such as riparian users and Delta salt intrusion there is only so far you can go.

The only viable answer in the near future to save water to weather the drought is for everyone — residents, businesses, farmers, and the environmental community — to make sacrifices.

Little things do add up. If every Manteca resident saved four gallons a day by either taking shorter showers, doing dishes less often, only doing full loads of laundry, using pool covers, or employing yellow is mellow rules when it comes to our toilets, there would be an acre foot of water saved every 11 days or 33.5 acre feet in a year’s time. But if every Californian saved four gallons a day, that would come to 379.2 acre feet less of water used daily. That’s 138,408 acre feet a year. Still a drop in the bucket but it’s a big drop especially combined with cutbacks on water to grow food and water to sustain fish flows.

The reality is there are those abusing urban water use rules that could easily save not four gallons a day but dozens upon dozens of gallons per day if they adhered to conservation regulations like most people. We don’t need to hose down sidewalks and driveways. We do not need to wash cars with an open nozzle. We do not need to hose out Toters or power wash houses simply to clean them. We need to save water.

Lawns are the big water user in Manteca and most cities. Officials say they account for 60 percent of all water use. Simply reducing the time watering takes place from 10 to 15 minutes that most people do now would make a huge difference. After a certain amount of time, the water isn’t being absorbed efficiently. On designated irrigation days, have the water come on for three minutes prior to dawn and three minutes after sunset the same day. It would reduce water use by 40 percent and probably would improve the health of grass.

Manteca and Lathrop need to bite the bullet and hire water conservation coordinators. Manteca has a general fund budget of $32 million that isn’t going to mean much if there isn’t water to keep the community alive.

 

 

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.

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