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Time to ban new front yard lawns in Manteca

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POSTED August 9, 2014 1:00 a.m.

A few miles west of Tracy is the start of the 705-mile long intravenous tube that is draining the natural lifeblood of lands around the Delta and farther north.

We curse it, yet it has made California what it is today. The growth that gave us Hollywood, the Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, San Diego and even San Francisco would not have been possible without massive transfers of water. It also turned the San Joaquin Valley into the world’s richest and most productive farm region. The valley from Manteca south produces 25 percent of this nation’s food on 1 percent of the farmland and the overwhelming majority of many fruits, nuts and vegetables.

Dream as some might, we can never pull the IV line completely as California would figuratively and literally die.

It is against this backdrop that many local leaders – including those in Manteca – fiddle while the California Empire shrivels up.

July wasn’t exactly our finest hour as a community. We reduced our water consumption by 10.4 percent. The City of Tracy, meanwhile, slashed their July 2013 water consumption compared to July 2014 by 25 percent.

They have well water like we do. They get surface water from the South San Joaquin Irrigation District like we do. They had the same hot weather we do. They have the same numerical gain in growth as we do.

So what’s the difference?

Tracy is living our future.

They are dealing with a truth that Manteca choses to ignore. Underground water sources in the valley – especially near the Delta – are not reliable.

The biggest reason is saltwater intrusion. Water quality – as well as supply – is also an issue  for water the city receives from the Delta-Mendota Canal. It is why Tracy was eager to obtain surface water from the SSJID.

Tracy’s proximity to the Delta makes their wells susceptible to salt water issues during droughts. Just as surface water in the Delta is pushed back farther to the east during low flows by seawater, the same is true in the invisible rivers that flow hundreds of feet below the surface.

Tracy is already had been receiving reduced water from the Delta-Mendota Canal. Starting this month, Tracy is being forced to take 20 percent less water – just like Manteca and Lathrop – from the SSJID based on August 2013 use.

Lathrop also is dealing with salt water issues in their municipal wells.

Manteca, farther to the east, doesn’t have that problem – yet.

Listen to some at city hall as well as a few elected officials when they aren’t posturing for drought-related questions from the public, and you’d get the impression that water cutbacks from SSJID are no big deal as we’ll just pump more ground water.

It is a big deal. Back in 1991, drought conditions led to the detection of salt water in farm wells as far east as Jack Tone Road.

As surface water supplies drop due to the drought, more stress is being put on aquifers up and down the valley. Even outside of drought years, water tables have been dropping for the past century by hundreds upon hundreds of feet. Some state water experts fear the increased pumping due to the drought may see parts of the valley hitting the bottom of the aquifer within two decades or so.

Manteca is not immune from any of this.

There are two pressing issues that for all practical purposes are being ignored. The first is what happens if we don’t have a better than average rain and snow fall this upcoming season? Virtually all experts agree a normal year will, at best, be a repeat of this year’s water conditions due to reservoirs being drawn down significantly. Anything less than normal spells disaster. Many areas will be on water rationing, more crops will not be grown. Both domestic water and food will skyrocket in cost.

The second issue is arguably even more important. The ground rules have changed. Whether we are in a natural mega drought or if it is due to growth, it is clear additional water storage – while critical – won’t begin to address all of our future water supply needs. We need to have a seismic shift in how we use water.

Manteca is headed for a painful wake-up. This city can’t even step up water conservation efforts even when we are in the throes of the third year of a crippling drought.

The easiest and biggest impact on current and future water supplies is to ban front lawns for all new development, residential or commercial. The biggest consumer of water in Manteca are lawns. There are lot of landscaping alternatives that fall short of xeriscape options seen in the desert that would significantly reduce future water use without having to resort to rocks. The city should take such action as an emergency measure. Refuse to issue occupancy permits for any new homes that have front lawns. They can then set about putting in place a policy that requires lawns in the front of homes to be replaced with other landscaping when they are sold. It effectively grandfathers in existing lawns for now avoiding a potential for a massive backlash.

Since city staff has made it clear they won’t work on any enhanced water conservation efforts without clear direction from Manteca’s five elected leaders, whether this city has a sustainable water supply is in the hands of Willie Weatherford, Vince Hernandez, Steve DeBrum, Debbie Moorhead, and John Harris.

The time for fiddling is over.

 

 

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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