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A purple water truck might avoid a lot of dead grass in Manteca
purple hydrant
This purple hydrant at the wastewater treatment plant accessing the city’s liquid gold — treated recycled wastewater.

The grass at the Manteca Civic Center is non-essential for the most part as defined by the state order going into effect June 10 to cease irrigating turf classified as such by using portable water.

The exceptions carved out currently besides turf in the yards of homes are institutional grass — think schools, hospitals city facilities, commercial, business park, and community landscaped areas — that are used for recreation purposes.

That means parks, school playing fields, recreation/sports turf, and golf courses don’t have to start turning brown in eight days.

It also means areas at city hall — the quad where preschool participants play and the dog park — can still be watered using potable water.

But all other grass under the state guidelines has to die — or does it?

Manteca is sitting on a strategic water supply, so to speak. It’s 6.5 million gallons of wastewater treated every day. Almost all of it flows into the San Joaquín River. It’s much cleaner than what is passing by the outlet west of Oakwood Lake. Some of it is currently going for dust control at construction sites or at least better be given large sums of water is needed for that purpose.

It is clear Manteca has to get serious about using recycled wastewater. Twelve years ago, then Mayor Willie Weatherford vented his frustration the city had talked about doing so for more than a decade but had nothing to show for it.

Manteca in less than two weeks will start paying the price for 20 years of talk and no action — or if you prefer lip service — on moving forward with a purple pipe system that is actually activated and distributing recycled treated wastewater  to irrigate turf and other public landscaping.

Whether you put stock in long established patterns of megadroughts in what is now the western region of the United States or climate change, living in drought or arid conditions is going to be the new norm.

That said even if the city started work in earnest today it will be several  years and millions upon millions of dollars before can start sending treated wastewater to irrigate areas via purple pipe.

There is an interim solution.

It won’t necessarily be cheap.

But in terms of what it may do to keep certain areas in Manteca from becoming a dust bowl it might be worth it.

The city could obtain a water truck, fill it from the purple hydrant at the wastewater testament plant that accesses treated wastewater and truck it to locations around the city.

Clearly it would require a crew on the truck to drive as well as to use some type of house and pump system to disperse the water on grass areas. Obviously you can’t drive the water truck over turf due  to its weight. But you could theoretically flood turf areas by using large fire style hoses to get the water to where it is needed.

It may just be a pie-in-the-sky idea but the water is there and the tools needed to do so are readily available.

The city, for a charge, could deliver and distribute such water to privately held areas where drinking water can’t be used to irrigate turf.

Besides city property impacted it could include large turf areas at churches, the privately-held Spreckels Park landscape maintenance district that includes lengthy grass areas, and such.

The city years ago should have pulled the plug on turf as landscaping on all new commercial and business development as Las Vegas did several years ago. And they really should follow Las Vegas’ example to implement a “no turf” ordinance for the front yards of all new residential construction starting in the next few years.

That, of course, would require looking out for the common good and not kowtowing to developers that are convinced front yard turf needs to remain as an option at new homes.

There is some good news. The council, led by Gary Singh, has twice rejected staff proposals to sell the city’s treated wastewater and use the money to cover municipal expenses.

Water — as Singh noted — is too valuable of a resource for Manteca to sell when doing so could compromise not just its future but the quality of life of existing residents.

The last proposal by the Sacramento-based Private Public Infrastructure Group to broker a deal that would have sent 21,141 acre feet of treated water a year from Manteca to westside farmers in Merced County got lost in the revolving door turmoil at city hall.

That’s one good thing to come out of the mess. If Manteca had committed to such a course they would have been selling the city’s future and water security away.

There is also good that came from the frustration of Weatherford and other council members.

When the purple pipe proposal repeatedly had false start after false start, staff pushed for shallow wells that tap into non-potable water like the East Union Cemetery does to to irrigate the city-owned Big League Dreams sports complex as well as landscaping at the Stadium Retail Center.

They were driven by a desire to avoid using more expensive drinking water to irrigate sports fields and landscaping. It also stretched out the surface treatment plant capacity to push back the need for a costly expansion.

City staff had already solved issues with in effective irrigation along much of the Tidewater Bikeway using city water that provided inadequate pressure by drilling a shallow well to irrigate that area.

In addition, Lincoln Park uses water from a well that had to be abandoned due to contamination that made it too costly to treat for drinking water. There is also a shallow well that irrigated the municipal golf course.

While playing fields are exempt under the state order they’re not using valuable drinking water. At the same time the fact there are areas in some parks that include the Tidewater that use shallow wells tapping into non-potable  water that they will be allowed to stay green.

The real question is whether the city is going to get off its duff.

This is a slow moving train wreck that — if the city acts — can be avoided from becoming a full-scale disaster.

Whether the city has the foresight, the vision, or the smarts to not only guide Manteca through the drought is left to be seen.

So far no one on the City Council or staff seems to be making this a major concern.

Not only did they just fill a long vacant water use compliance and education position but the current budget proposal set aside for the upcoming fiscal year has no money set aside for addressing a situation that can evolve from dead nonessential institutional turf to something much more destructive when it comes to the quality of life and public health and safety in  Manteca.


This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at