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Manteca must ban all front yard grass for new construction going forward
The Turlock City Council is set to consider implementing a penalty of $25 for those single-family residential water customers whose water use exceeds 40,000 gallons per month. - photo by Photo Contributed

The City of Manteca will pay residential customers up to $650 to remove water guzzling front yard turf that is essentially eye candy.

Yet at the same time they are allowing more than 700 new homes a year to install — you got it — water guzzling front yard grass.

On one hand they allow more grass — the highest consumption of water in the city — to be added in the middle of an extreme drought.

Then they offer water customers a $1 per square foot replacement rebate as an incentive to switch to landscaping using significantly less water.

The Sybil act doesn’t stop there.

It is clear we are deep in a drought and with a fourth consecutive dry year that is growing more likely — even with the rare September storm on tap. The odds are increasing there will be severe mandatory water cutbacks imposed as water supplies keep dropping.

The city needs to reduce water use by 20 percent. Yet, last month the city’s year-to-year August savings were a miserable 0.5 percent while the California  average was a significantly better 10 percent reduction.

Even allowing for per capita increase from roughly 700 new homes being completed over the past year, the savings on a per person basis is still less than an anemic 4 percent.

This is against a backdrop of the city hiring a water cop to make sure people comply with water use restrictions that — for all essentially proposes — focus on how lawns are watered.

That runs the gamut from day of the week, frequency, and time of day to making sure water doesn’t stray onto sidewalks, driveways, gutters or streets.

Such a tight rein on where water can flow and the use time restrictions is designed to lead to more judicious use of the water and the use of less water.

Watering lawns are the basis for almost all of the 127 warnings — the precursor to citations attached with fines that ratchet up with each subsequent offense — issued in August by Manteca’s water cop.

Why add another 700 locations a year that a water cop has to monitor?

Then there is the little detail regarding the enormous watering needed for two to three months to establish a new lawn.

Planting a lawn in the middle of a severe dry spell redefines the concept of lunacy.

It is clear — based on hydrology — that California and much of the western United States has been in a dry period for the past 20 years.

Tree ring data — the width added each year in growth is based on available water — gleaned from carbon data shows what is now our climate has been more of the norm over the past 2,000 plus years in this part of the world.

There was an abnormally wet period between the mid-1700s and the mid-1900s not just in what today we call California but that of the United States.

It still snowed and rained. And there were still occasional “normal years” as well as above normal years dropped between strings of dry years.

The problem is no one can predict with any certainty where the coming water year that starts Oct. 1 will go.

It could be  wet. It could be dry. It could be normal.

Currently based on reservoir levels and dropping after tables, normal would be great but it wouldn’t get us out of the woods.

A dry year could be of varying degrees. It could force more restrictive water saving measures to stretch supplies or — if it is extremely dry — it could force mandatory water restrictions that none of us are going to like.

In short, the city has no business gambling with water whether it involves Manteca’s supplies next year or over the coming decades.

It is a basic public health and safety issue.

That said, some may want the city to be a tad more aggressive and others may want them to back off a bit. The city has taken a cautious course that isn’t driven by panic nor driven by what they can see while burying their heads in the proverbial sand.

Even so, we could go from where we are now to a major disaster overnight or spring back to a reasonable comfort level on what would clearly be a temporary basis

It doesn’t take a genius given trends that allowing the planting of new decorative lawns in front yards has got to go. Las Vegas has already figured it out.

Clearly you need to phase it out when it comes to existing development although they day may arrive when it may have to occur suddenly.

Adding more eye candy turf with non-native water guzzling grass is clearly insanity.

As for those who believe the answer is a housing moratorium, that isn’t going to happen.

The reason is Sacramento and state law won’t allow it.

The only chance of it is happening is a clear public health and safety emergency that would trump all else in a court of law.

The City of Manteca literally would need to be forced to truck in water and  then ration it by the gallon pick up points around town for people to use.

Manteca for better or worse has well over 9,000 housing units in the development pipeline of which the bulk already have entitlements to be built.

Freely translated, you try to stop them and it the city will be pelted with expensive lawsuits they can’t win much like the ground in orchard around Manteca and Ripon now being pelted with almonds being shaken from trees.

Unless we get into dire straits that are apocalyptic, we need landscaping to reduce heat, control dust, generate oxygen, and make Manteca inhabitable.

What we can’t afford are non-native water sucking landscaping unsuited for California’s climate. And the No. 1 offender is non-native grass.

Not banning grass in backyards is a nod to their functionality.

Backyard lawns are often used by children to play and for pets to frolic. It is where people may gather with friends and to dine.

That is not the case with front yards.

What needs to be done is simple.

The Manteca City Council needs to ban all front yard turf in new construction as well as any new turf in commercial applications immediately.

And they need to do it now instead of waiting until we are standing at the abyss overlooking dry river  canyons.


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