The drought teamed up with high winds Monday to deliver an example of what South County residents may be dealing with this summer — severe dust storms.
Delta winds in the early afternoon whipped up dust from dry farm field east of the San Joaquin River to reduce visibility in French Camp to a mile at times. Lathrop also got hit hard with dust. Visibility in Manteca was reduced somewhat by dust along the Airport Way corridor and in western parts of the city.
Droughts and dust storms are deadly combinations in the San Joaquin Valley. In 1991 during the last significant drought, a sudden blinding sand storm on Interstate 5 north of Coalinga killed 14 and injured 114 in a series of chain accidents. Valley sand storms create the equivalent of white out conditions in zero visibility fog.
Locally, blowing dust doesn’t reduce visibility until later in summer. But four years of severe drought has dried up soil on non-farmed land while a good amount of acreage that normally would be planted in crops are fallow.
On Monday, the City of Manteca’s purple hydrant at the wastewater treatment plant to disperse recycled wastewater for dust control at construction sites was available for use for the first time ever. It is part of Manteca’s overall effort to reduce water use by 32 percent as mandated by the state due to the fourth year of severe drought conditions.
Public Works Director Mark Houghton said city staff has completed the necessary training for the purple pipe operation.
The recycled water is being made available to contractors free of charge. At the same time it is now illegal to use municipal drinking water from fire hydrants for dust control. A typical 5,000 gallon water truck would cost contractors $100 to fill when using meters attached to fire hydrants. By having the recycled water available at no charge it offsets added expense contractors will have driving to and from the wastewater treatment plant on West Yosemite Avenue instead of tapping into fire hydrants near their projects.
Houghton noted some builders are using their own wells. They typically are former rural home or farm wells that were left when the land they purchased to build homes was razed of all structures.
Based on Manteca’s per capita daily water consumption of 116 gallons, the water saved from not filling a 5,000-gallon water truck is enough to meet the needs of an individual in Manteca from 43 days.
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Manteca declared emergency during dust storms some 14 years ago
The last time severe dust storms plagued Manteca was in 2000-2001 when a large swath of sandy loan land along the Airport Way corridor and near Sierra High was taken out of farm production and was being converted into subdivisions.
The city required developers to aggressively control dust requiring some to go as far as lay down large stretches of pasture irrigation lines of sprinklers to keep the ground moist when winds kicked up. Water from water trucks had proven ineffective at keeping dust down.
Manteca declared airborne dirt and dust a public nuisance and health problem. It required “all persons owning, leasing or occupying real property within the city” to maintain their land to prevent “airborne transportation of sand, soil or dust from their property to be deposited in visible quantities on neighboring property.”
The emergency ordinance that was in effect for six months allowed the washing of sidewalks, driveways, patios, parking lots and other non-landscaped areas in the effected neighborhoods west of Union Road on specific days to remove dust and dirt.
Hundreds of west Manteca residents had been living in fear of dust in 2000.
Winds whipped up dirt storms that swept across two new subdivisions at the time — Westbrook Estates and Villa Ticino — where the land has been stripped and graded, exposing the sandy loam while builders waited for precious sewer allocations in order to start actual construction of homes. In less than a few hours, the skies would darken even though dusk was still four to five hours away.
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The impact of dust storms on quality of life
The dust storms have 14 years ago:
• caked many swimming pools with up to 6 inches of mud on the bottom.
• deposited dirt accelerated the break-down of shake shingles on roofs.
• triggered an epidemic of children suffering from allergies, bloody noses and other maladies.
• forced the cancellation of recesses during the school year at Stella Brockman and Brock Elliott schools when the blowing dirt kicked up.
• destroyed landscaping, including specialty collector trees valued at over $900 each.
• created excess wear and tear on homes that resulted in one owner being told by an appraiser the home has lost “thousands of dollars in value.”
• destroyed pool cleaning equipment.
• rendered many pools useless for swimming.
• accelerated damage to exterior paint due to repeated high pressure hosing many homeowners resorted to in a bid to clean the air they breathe.
• caked the inside of homes with dirt to the point that a number of people told the council at the time that food tasted like dirt when storms hit during the dinner hour.
• prompted many parents to prevent their children from playing outside.