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Schools aim to cut water use by 20%
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Manteca Unified is taking the drought seriously.

Actually, they started stepping up water conservation in 2009 — a full two years before the current four-year drought started.

The reason is simple.

“Water is a big cost,” noted Manteca Unified Superintendent Jason Messer.

The district’s Green Initiative that includes reducing electricity use as well as stepping up recycling calls for a 20 percent reduction of water use by 2020.

Any way they can enhance water conservation in bathrooms, cafeteria, and on the grounds will be folded into campus modernization as part of the $159 million Measure G bond.

But with 23,000 kids that can be a bit dicey.

The district his discovered that waterless urinals, for example, aren’t the ideal situation for schools. They are prone to serious problems that require extensive staff clean-up when kids get a bit mischievous.

Messer noted that the district’s “quick response team” for site issues including water complaints is just that — quick.

Sometimes, though, it looks like that is not the case.

“We had a problem recently at Sequoia School where there was a broken sprinkler head that our crews got to the day we had a complaint,” Messer recalled. “We got a call the next day from a neighbor concerned that we hadn’t fixed it. We had. It was another sprinkler that had gotten broken.”

Because there are so many school sites and only 17 workers handing landscaping, Messer said the public’s help pointing out water issues is important.

Deputy Superintendent Clark Burke noted the district formed a water conservation committee six years ago.

The committee’s goal is to keep playing field and landscaping in good shape while ensuring the district’s economic stability and serving as environmental stewards of water resources.

The directives in place since 2009 include:

*Ensuring all plumbing leaks are reported and repaired immediately.

uGround watering should only be done between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. from April through October.

uWhen spray irrigating, ensure that water does not directly hit buildings.

uPlant native or warm-season grasses and drought-tolerant or water-efficient plants.

In addition outdated or damaged heads, valves, systems and controllers are replaced as budgets allow. Such improvements can significantly reduce water use when installed.

The district is also constantly reminding its staff of water saving techniques. One such tidbit is that when water pressure is too high, water mists and is lost to the air. Another is replacing worn out nozzles as they reduce distribution uniformity. This creates dead or soggy spots and wastes water.

The district adheres to strict irrigation schedules.

At Lincoln School, as an example, the current schedule calls for no irrigation Sunday through Wednesday. Watering is conducted Thursday through Saturday, Each station on the playing fields is on for 40 minutes between 6 p.m. and midnight. Courtyard stations are on 15 minutes between 8 and 11:30 p.m. while the two stations in the front of the campus are on for 30 minutes each from 8 to 9 p.m. Schedules are re-evaluated periodically

The district also periodically does a cost analysis of sinking its own shallow wells for campus irrigation as compared to using treated city water. It is a strategy similar to what the City of Manteca is deploying at a number of municipal parks. So far one school site within the city has been converted to a well.

“It paid for itself amazing quick,” Burke said.

The results so far are relatively good.

In May, for example, water use at eight schools (Calla, Ethel Allen, Widmer, Lathrop Elementary, Lathrop High, Manteca High, New Vision, and Shasta) peaked at 15,800,000 gallons in 2009 and dropped down to 8,400,000 gallons in 2014. That trend held through the spring and summer months. In February of 2009, though, water use was slightly less than in 2014 when overall about 500,000 gallons were used. During winter, however, most water use is inside such as in bathrooms and cafeterias as irrigation is reduced to a bare minimum.