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Water revenue drying up
Conservation costs Manteca $1M so far
water-lawn-LT
Manteca municipal staff is against cutting back allowable watering days from three to two a week. - photo by HIME ROMERO

Conserving water has cost Manteca $1,020,300 since July 1.

And on Tuesday the City Council could put in place additional conservation measures that could accelerate the decline in water department revenues that are currently off by 11 percent.

City staff has indicated the water enterprise account has sufficient reserves to withstand declines in revenue for now. They are, however, monitoring the money situation and if revenues fall below required thresholds, measures will need to be taken to address the shortfall through expenditure reductions or increases in revenues.

Manteca has held the line on water use rates since 2009. The city has been able to avoid the rate increases for water use by introducing efficiencies and encouraging people to use less water which in turn reduced the need for additional wells and treatment of surface water. While per capita water use had been dropping and helped keep costs down the significant increase in conservation efforts of nearly 15 percent may force a rate hike down the line.

During the 1976-77 drought a number of water services in California had to increase rates to make up for dropped water consumption that failed to cover basic operational costs for things such as manpower, electricity, chemicals to treat water, and system repairs and maintenance.

Manteca needs to step up its water conservation, however, to meet a state mandated 25 percent reduction as California deals with a fourth consecutive year of severe drought.

The biggest area to reduce water use that still remains is the watering of yards or more precisely lawns. Public Works Director Mark Houghton has indicated grass irrigation accounts for 60 percent of Manteca’s water use.

 When the council meets on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Civic Center, 1001 W. Center St., staff will report back on six more proposed conservation measures.

Staff is recommending  against cutting back to two days a week for watering from the current three citing concerns about water pressure and the possibility  people would  just water more on days they are allowed to and end up negating any savings. The trend in valley cities, though, is to cut back to two days due to the severity of the drought and the inability to garner significant savings elsewhere. Cities that have — or are in the process of cutting back to two days — include Turlock, Modesto, and Lathrop.

Staff is also recommending against requiring existing homes being sold to put in place water conserving devices indoors such as low-flow toilets and low-flow shower heads as well as reduce turf area in front yards before they can close escrow.  The staff cited additional staff time for inspections as well as potentially increasing the financial burden on homeowners as to why they oppose the proposal.

The  staff also wants to sidestep making covers mandatory for new pools and instead offer a rebate program of $50 per cover to encourage the owners of existing pools and new ones to purchase pool covers. They are recommending $5,000 be set aside for the pool cover rebate program.

The City Council is  being encouraged to go ahead and suspend enforcement of the blight ordinance to allow people to let their lawns die during the drought.

They also want the council to wave the $1,533 modification fee required of any commercial venture seeking to alter already approved landscaping plans that are in place in order to participate on the city’s lawn-to-garden rebate program.

The city is also moving  forward with plans to further reduce water use at the golf course.