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Manteca is more like Las Vegas than many think

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POSTED September 24, 2010 2:46 a.m.

Shelly Andrade is a new arrival in Manteca from Las Vegas.

She’s amazed at the water waste that goes on in Manteca primarily from people watering their lawns and letting excess water flow into the gutter, down the storm drain, and out to the river.

Andrade wanted to know if the city had an incentive program where people were paid rebates by the city to install xeriscape or drought-tolerant landscaping.

In Sin City such wanton use of water would be the cardinal sin.

She shared her concerns at the City Council meeting. They politely listened and noted that the city had rules designed to keep water waste in check. They noted that Manteca isn’t in an arid setting like Las Vegas inferring water isn’t that big of an issue here.

Au contraire, Manteca – and the entire Great Central Valley – is an arid region though not as extreme as Las Vegas. The Mediterranean-style climate we have grows lush crops not because Mother Nature put the water in the right place but because man engineered the greatest water works the world has ever known and has transferred water hundreds of miles away to places that lack it in California. At the same time, we have severely over-drafted underground aquifers. NASA satellites have gathered information that essentially confirms the aquifers serving the Central Valley have lost enough water to fill Lake Mead - this nation’s largest reservoir - since October of 2003.

Left to nature’s design, Manteca and the rest of the Central Valley would be a swamp during parts of the winter and again in spring during the Sierra snowmelt and then became arid and dry in summer and fall.

What changed that – for now – are levees, dams, canals and aqueducts.

Sustainable water is critical for the continued economic health of valley communities such as Manteca as well as the ability of the richest agricultural region in the world – the San Joaquin Valley – to continue to yield crops that put food at relatively low cost on our nation’s tables.

While there is no pressing need at the moment to require ripping out high water use lawns, it would make economic sense to encourage people to change their landscaping patterns with incentives that work to reduce the use of expensive treated water.

Some xeriscape is a bit extreme but there are a number of native shrubs, trees, and grasses that are colorful and use much less water.

It also would have the effect of reducing dead landscaping as it can go for extremely long periods without water as opposed to your typical suburban-style landscaping and grass.

It is no different than the city’s thought process behind rebates when high water use washing machines are replaced with water-efficient washing machines.  The city also had a rebate program in place at one time to encourage using older toilets that used three gallons or more per flush if they were switched with low flow toilets using 1.6 gallons per flush.

The washing machine and toilet are the two biggest uses inside a home.

As far as outside consumption is concerned, watering the grass is by far the biggest use of water.

Manteca’s leaders have been extremely farsighted in developing and securing surface water. If all goes as projected, Manteca has enough water to ultimately support 160,000 residents. That doesn’t mean the city can ignore its responsibility to reduce water consumption to make sure supplies are adequate for California as a whole.

While it is true people pay for what they use, you can’t replace water when it is gone.

Landscaping rebates are just one of many possible ways of reducing water use and costs. Others include encouraging the use of gray water from baths and showers to irrigate ornamental landscaping instead of sending it to the wastewater treatment plant for costly treatment.

Manteca – as well as the rest of California – does have to worry about how much water we use.

Out future depends on it.

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