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DeBrum: Let’s not flush water away

Councilman wants close look at all water saving options

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DeBrum: Let’s not flush water away

Frank Gehrke of the State Department of Water Resources measures the snowpack earlier this month. The trees and mountains in the background are normally covered with snow. The Sierra snowpack is 20...

Photo courtesy Department of Water Resources/

POSTED January 28, 2014 1:36 a.m.

One solution to stretch Manteca’s water supply may literally be just a flush away.

Councilman Steve DeBrum is hoping municipal staff thinks out-of-the-box in coming up with ways that maximize water conservation while avoiding the need to employ “water cops” to cope with California’s drought emergency.

Among that out-of-the-box thinking DeBrum hopes municipal staff will pursue includes exploring ways to significantly expand city efforts to encourage people to convert to dual flush and high efficiency toilets.

Such toilets use 1.28 gallons per flush. Older toilets use anywhere from 3.5 and 5 gallons of water to as much as seven gallons of water.

The American Water Works Association notes that the average person flushes five times a day. Using five gallons a flush means one person is using 9,125 gallons a year to go to the bathroom. By switching to the high efficiency toilets just one person’s water use for flushing with 1.28 gallons per flush would save 6,786 gallons a year.

Assuming there are at least 18,000 people in Manteca still flushing with toilets that consume five gallons a flush, the city could save 122,202,000 gallons a year or the amount of water that passes through the municipal wastewater treatment plant in 17.45 days. The plant processes 7 million gallons of wastewater a day. It would result in a 4.7 percent reduction in municipal water use.

Water experts say flushing toilets followed by showers/baths and then washing machines are the three biggest in-house water uses.

The city already offers $25 rebates for the purchase of such toilets by individuals with a limit of two rebates during a three-year period. A small amount of money is budgeted and the program goes each year until the fund is exhausted.

DeBrum would like to see the staff explore the effectiveness of possibly increasing the rebate and expanding the money available to see if it makes sense to do more.

“I’m not saying do it, but I want to see all options explored and a plan offered that the council can consider,” DeBrum said.

DeBrum is one of three council members who made it a point to make sure staff was bringing back a drought action plan at the next council meeting on Feb. 4. The others were Mayor Willie Weatherford and Councilman John Harris.

DeBrum is meeting with South San Joaquin Irrigation District General Manager Jeff Shields to get a better understanding of what the South County is up against as California enters its third drought year. The district has already asked the cities of Manteca, Lathrop, and Tracy to prepare for 20 percent cutbacks this year as well as increase water pumping immediately to stretch available surface supplies.

DeBrum said it is clear due to skimpy snowpack, minuscule rainfall, and historically low reservoirs that there is an urgency to make prudent moves to assure water supplies if the drought continues into a fourth year.

He believes programs should be explored that prompt people to police themselves. That could involve drought emergency water rates that encourage conservation.

DeBrum doesn’t like what he sees happening now.

Farmers in his neighborhood have already irrigated their vines twice this month using well water even though irrigation doesn’t typically start until the first of March

Drillers are booked up for months up and down the San Joaquin Valley drilling water wells to new depths.

“I’ve been told by farmers that they have neighbors drilling wells down hundreds of feet farther than their own wells in search of water,” DeBrum said.

At the same time DeBrum is worrying about his own situation. His home is in a semi-rural part of the southeastern section of the city and relies on its own well instead of the city system. His well goes down 49 feet. The real possibility exists if the drought continues that increased demand for ground water will render his well dry and those of other city and rural residents that have their own water systems.

DeBrum said it is important that all possible solutions are vetted now so appropriate steps can be taken as they are needed.

At the same time, he would like to see staff recommend a goal for everyone to shoot for to reduce water use this year.

The governor has asked for all Californians to cutback water use by 20 percent.

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