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Targeting Mantecas lawns
Grass accounts for 60% of water consumption
This home at Cowell and Marin avenues in Powers Tract recently had its front and side yard lawns removed and replaced with bark, drought-resistant landscaping, and river rock. - photo by HIME ROMERO/ The Bulletin

California’s lawns are soaking up precious water.

It is why lawns are in the crosshairs of officials managing the state’s water emergency from  Governor Jerry Brown down to elected leaders in California’s 482 cities. Brown specifically targeted lawns in his first issuance of mandatory water use rules in a bid to help California survive a fourth year of severe drought.

The Department of Water Resources indicates lawns consume more than half of all water a typical household uses. In Manteca, Public Works Director Mark Houghton puts it closer to 60 percent. That’s low compared to areas such as the Coachella Valley in Riverside County where an estimated 80 percent of the household  goes to irrigate lawns based on data cited in the California Water Plan published in 2005. As a rule those with bigger lots use proportionately more water to irrigate their laws based on research cited in the state water plan.

Houghton has noted indoor water use per capita in Manteca has slipped by dozens of gallons in recent years as more homes deploy low-flow showerheads, use high efficiency washing machines and use low-flow toilets. The drop in use is reflected by less wastewater being treated at the city’s sewer plant per capita before the start of the drought while at the same time water use per capita climbed.

It is against that background that Manteca  is placing much of its efforts to reduce water consumption by 25 percent from 2013 levels.

uCutting watering to two days a week. City Manager Karen McLaughlin indicated staff will be asking the council to consider reducing days that landscaping is allowed to be watered for residential n businesses, and other water customers from the current three days to just two days.

uRestricting turf use in new front yard landscaping. This  is targeted to become law by  July 2 although developers and builders can start complying immediately. Currently the municipal ordinance simply says front yards must be 35 percent landscaped but doesn’t specify with what. The new rule still requires 35 percent of the area of new front yards to be landscaped but no more than 25 percent of that reduced area can be planted in grass while the rest has to be live plant material with an emphasis placed on drought-resistant plant species.

Drought-resistant doesn’t mean cactus. While virtually all shrubs and trees that can be planted consume significantly less water than lawns, there are some that require even less water once they are established.

The council at their May 5th meeting may make this a requirement as well for existing homes that are being sold to have in place before escrow can close.

Some have questioned why the city doesn’t allow them to put impervious material has as concrete over their entire front yard. Doing so would substantially increase storm run-off making flooding a major concern in neighborhoods.

As for eliminating sloped lawns, the uniform building code requires new construction to make sure water flows away from the base of buildings such as homes where it can cause serious structural concerns if it is allowed to pool over the years.

uLawn-to-garden rebate. The city is targeting April 20 for the roll-out of a $100,000 six -month pilot rebate program giving residents and businesses $1 a square foot help convert lawns to drought-resistant landscaping. Residential rebates would be capped at $500 and businesses at $5,000. This is on top of the proposed state rebate.

Houghton said a shift of even 10 percent of existing Manteca yards from grass to landscaping that is less water intensive coupled with other measures could go  a long way to helping Manteca obtain a 25 percent reduction.

uSuspend enforcement of the city’s ordinance relative to landscape care, maintenance and replacement. Those who would like to discontinue irrigation their landscaping this year and let their landscaping die to conserve water would be allowed to do so legally starting July 2. If they started letting their lawn die now, however, they won’t run the risk of  being fined while the ordinance goes through its legal adaption process.

The only proviso is that whatever is left has to be kept below six inches in height. Fire officials noted the city’s weed abatement ordinance requires all ground cover vegetation to be under six inches whether it is green or brown. At the same time any dead shrubs must be removed.

The suspension will allow for landscapes to die but front yard landscapes will still have to adhere to weed and trash nuisance code rules which do not allow for weeds higher than six inches.