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Manteca eyes possible water use restrictions

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POSTED January 10, 2014 1:25 a.m.

The top brass at Manteca’s City Hall are taking a wait and see attitude about the drought – but they aren’t planning to wait too long.

City Manager Karen McLaughlin said Thursday that Public Works staff is already exploring strategies on what they could implement to reduce municipal water use.

Staff intends to monitor the situation for the next few weeks and possibly present the City Council with a game plan in February.

The administrative strategy session comes on the heels of a warning from South San Joaquin Irrigation District General Manager Jeff Shields that surface water deliveries may be reduced to the cities of Manteca, Lathrop, and Tracy as the result of a third consecutive dry year. Manteca Mayor Willie Weatherford has said he’d like to see the city move forward as quickly as possible with a water conservation plan that emphasizes educating the public and then — after a set period — enforcing it through fines. The mayor has even gone as far as to suggest the city may need to hire a “water cop” in order to keep the pressure on people to save water as reservoirs and water tables continue to drop.

McLaughlin said she currently doesn’t see very much water wasting going on as most people aren’t trying to water their lawns. Most grasses that thrive in Manteca go dormant during cold weather. But if the temperatures match forecasts and the mercury warms up slightly McLaughlin said that could trigger more irrigation during the traditional rainy season. McLaughlin noted the city would probably take steps to address the issue if there is a sudden rush to water lawns and such during the traditional cold months of January and February

The quickest move would be to start the city’s water conservation program ahead of March 9. Manteca’s water conservation program limits the time of day when people can water and assigns water days by odd and even street addresses as well as prohibits the use of open end hoses to wash cars and bans gutter flooding. The program starts every year with the arrival of Daylight Savings Time. It ends with the return to normal time in the fall. This year Daylight Savings Time starts on March 9.

“We’re a little better off than a lot of cities as we also have well water in addition to surface water,” McLaughlin said.

Even so, she acknowledged there are concerns with the continued depletion of water tables as well as the possibility of salt water intrusion if wells on aquifers that are near the Delta draw water down too far.

During the 1987 to 1989 drought salt water intrusion was detected as far east as Jack Tone Road in higher aquifers.

California has just come off its driest calendar year on record. Snowpack in the Sierra — the state’s largest water reservoir — was only at 20 percent of normal at the start of January. Reservoir levels statewide are below the marks they were at in 1977 at the start of the worst drought year in modern history.

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