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Manteca’s big fear: Not enough water for 2015

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POSTED January 17, 2014 1:56 a.m.

Conserve waste.

That’s the battle cry expected to start echoing across California today as Gov. Jerry Brown prepares to declare a statewide drought emergency.

Some 63 percent of California is now classified as being in “extreme drought” including San Joaquin County.

Among developments in the past week:

• The Northern San Joaquin Valley has gone without rain for 39 days, closing in on a winter record for 42 straight days set during the previous worst drought in 1977.

• Residents in the sprawling suburbs of Eastern Sacramento County have been asked not to water any outdoor landscaping with the expectation that could become a mandatory decree by spring.

• The City of Sacramento is imposing water cutbacks for residential use and deploying “water cops” to first warn and then issue tickets of up to $500 for those who continue to ignore water conservation rules.

• The South San Joaquin Irrigation District has advised the cities of Manteca, Lathrop, and Tracy that they can expect up to a 20% reduction in water deliveries this year.

• Only trace amounts of snow have fallen since the start of the month when a survey showed that the Sierra snowpack was just at 20 percent of normal.

• State water surveys indicate the level of reservoirs are at their lowest level ever even when compared to the 1977 drought.

Manteca’s municipal water gurus this week huddled with SSJID staff to discuss water deliveries.

City Manager Karen McLaughlin said since the city last year only used 80 percent of its water allocation from the South County Surface Water Treatment Plant that draconian curtailments of water consumption isn’t likely to  be needed.

That said, Manteca has added about 1,000 residents since last year. If supplies run tight then the city can increase underground water pumping.

Typically Manteca’s wells are all running during peak demand times in the hot months. The addition of the water storage tank in southeast Manteca along Atherton Drive will provide some cushion allowing the city to replenish supplies overnight if surface water is reduced.

McLaughlin said the biggest concern for Manteca is 2015. Unless snow and rainfall approaches normal levels before the end of April, expected water use will mean the next water year is likely to start with even lower reservoirs.

To help stretch SSJID supplies that Manteca relies on McLaughlin said staff is crafting a water conservation plan to present to the council in February.

It is likely to draw attention to various city programs aimed at helping people conserve water. They run the gamut from free showerheads to free help with adjusting sprinkler timers to rebates for installing low-flow toilets and water efficient washing machines. Toilets are the biggest use of water inside a home. Newer low-flow toilets can reduce water consumption per flush by as much as 60 percent.

Landscaping is the biggest water user when it comes to residential customers.

McLaughlin noted that the city hasn’t seen very many residents watering landscaping.

Mid-winter watering could start, though, if warm days continue.

“We’re starting to see some trees and shrubs bud,” McLaughlin said.

Even so, she indicated it may not be effective to move up the city’s mandatory water conservation program that goes into effect 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 should be in decent shape for this year (if we follow conservation rules).” McLaughlin said. “There is definitely concern about next year if conditions don’t improve significantly.”

The city is expected to step up its water conservation education.

Mayor Willie Weatherford has indicated he’d like to see an educational effort followed by the possible deployment of a “water cop” to start enforcing water saving rules after a grace period lapses.

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