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Manteca may get smart
Water savings? Theres an app for that
Rachios Smart Sprinkler Controller uses an app on a smartphone to automatically adjust lawn watering to weather conditions and the seasons. The $249 controller is available at Home Depot. - photo by Photo Contributed

Water conservation in Manteca could go high tech.

The Manteca City Council Tuesday gave staff the OK to explore a number of water conservation strategies including the possible installation of smart water meters as well as rebates for smart yard irrigation controllers.

Council members Vince Hernandez and Steve DeBrum made it clear they’d prefer strategies such as smart water controllers and smart water meters that empower water users to better manage water consumption than an approach seeking to secure compliance to conservation efforts through draconian fines.

“It’s sad that government has to tell us how to conserve because we can’t police ourselves,” noted Councilman John Harris of the severe drought that appears headed to a fourth consecutive year.

While Manteca has met Governor Brown’s call for at least a 20 percent reduction in  water use only once since February, Public Works Director Mark Houghton said overall the city has averaged savings of over 10 percent during the past six months. That’s better than other Northern San Joaquin Valley cities except Tracy that has managed savings in excess of 20 percent for the past three months.

Houghton noted that the drop in Manteca came despite growth and the addition of new employers such as Crothall Laundry that use larger volumes of water. Houghton noted that July and August water use is at the lowest point it has been in 10 years.

“And we had a lot of growth  in the past 10 years,” Houghton added.

Houghton noted conservation efforts such as low-flow showerheads, water efficient washing machines, and low-flush toilets have all helped keep household water consumption steady despite growth over the past few years.

The biggest use of water — between 55 and 60 percent in Manteca — is for landscaping and other outdoor users. The next biggest chunk is the watering of municipal parks.

On that point, DeBrum said city staff needs to also double down efforts to make sure park irrigation doesn’t result in water being sprayed into the street, running down gutters, as well as taking place outside the restricted hours for irrigation.

Houghton noted the biggest savings that the city still can realize will likely come from outdoor water use.

That’s where smart water meters come into play. Half of the city’s water meters can be read remotely by a water department employee simply driving by and scanning. The other half still requires a worker to walk the streets and manually lift water covers to take readings.

Converting to smart water meters similar to PG&E’s smart meters would allow the city to place nodes throughout Manteca to relay real time water use information. That means a business or resident could go on their computer, smartphone or tablet and see what their current water consumption is. It would allow them to also see what consumes the most water and adjust their habits accordingly.

Smart water controllers use moisture sensor technology as well as mini-weather stations to determine if grass and other vegetation needs to be watered and to regulate how much water is needed.

Houghton noted some users of smart water controllers have reported 20 to 30 percent reductions in water ruse.

Houghton said one way the city could encourage the use of such smart water controllers is by offering rebates.

The city’s existing rebate programs so far this year have helped  60 households purchase low-flush toilets with a $25 rebate and 131 households purchase water efficient washing machines with a  $50 rebate.