If you drive down a Manteca street you will be hard pressed not to find a lawn that is yellowing, brown, or dead.
For some it is a badge of honor as they have sacrificed their green lawn to reduce water use as drought conditions continue to linger in much of California.
A few homeowners and renters — much to the chagrin of their neighbors — have used the drought to let everything in their front yards die. They include grass and shrubs. In their place weeds have popped up. Some of those homes with prevalent weeds higher than 4 to 6 inches or dead shrubs and such got cited during the recent citywide weed abatement inspections conducted by the Manteca Fire Department.
The Manteca City Council on April 7, 2015 suspended enforcement of provisions of the zoning ordinance regarding care, maintenance and replacement of landscaping with an emphasis on lawns as a way to allow residents to help Manteca reach state mandated water cutbacks. That meant residents had the option of letting their lawns die to conserve water.
Manteca currently needs to reduce water use by 27 percent from 2013 levels and is on target to do so overall for this year. Water use was down 32 percent in May.
The council directed staff after a year to review the suspension of landscape maintenance in terms of keeping it green based on California’s water conditions.
City Manager Karen McLaughlin said staff has done just that and has determined to keep the suspension in place.
“The state has a rule that (home owners associations) cannot fine homeowners if they had a dead lawn,” McLaughlin noted. “Using that logic it would seem the state does not want homeowners fined if they chose to have dead lawns due to the drought. Thus the staff does not believe the measure should be repealed at this time. Likewise, with the precipitation numbers being somewhat improved this year, we wanted to see just how much property owners may choose to water a little more than in past years, to see if the visible appearance of the lawns improves some.”
When the council suspended the rules they made it clear the weed abatement rules would still be enforced. That is currently happening with a relatively handful of homes.
McLaughlin said she will look into whether the lawn-to-garden rebate program the city has in place for water conservation would include people who have let their lawns die to help them replace it with landscaping that uses much less water than grass as water restrictions are eased.
“It would make sense but we would need to make sure that can be done.” McLaughlin said.
The current residential rebate for cash for grass is $1 per square foot capped at $650. The dollar for dollar match is designed to encourage people to remove more of their lawn and replace it with shrubs and trees that are more water efficient. More than 150 Manteca homeowners have taken advantage of the pilot program.
Actually Manteca residents can get up to $1,300 in cash rebates to replace high water use front yard lawns with more efficient landscaping.
Not only does the city provide $1 per square foot up to 650 square feet to homeowners willing to switch out turf for landscaping hat reduces water demands and is better suited for the local climate but the state will match Manteca dollar for dollar.
The city also offers a rebate program for commercial property grass replacement that’s capped at 5,000 square feet.
The largest residential use of water is for landscaping. After that comes washing machines, showers/baths, and toilets.
Public Works Director Houghton has estimated landscaping — primarily lawns — accounts for 40 percent of all water used in the city.
Many garden and lawn experts point out that people tend to overwater their lawns. Often times the problem can be traced back to issues with timers on automatic irrigation systems and homeowners having difficulty in trying to reset them
The city has put in rules requiring more drought resistant landscaping in the font yards of new home being built in Manteca.
The city also offers rebates for those who replace clothes washers with high efficiency models. The rebate is for $100.
Manteca also has $75 rebates for replacement of toilets with a dual flush or high efficiency model. It is available to homeowners and landlords for their rental properties.