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Manteca & the coming water crisis
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It was a beautiful day Monday.

The sun was out. Temperatures were in the low 70s. And there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

Underground water levels in San Joaquin County have dropped an average of three feet to their lowest levels since the end of the 1992 drought.

The Sierra snowpack has receded even further since the end of January when it was at 25 percent of normal.

They’ve been playing golf at the Old Brockway Course on the north shore of Lake Tahoe for three weeks.

There was a major forest fire in the high country of the Eastern Sierra earlier this month despite it being “deep winter.”

New Melones Reservoir is still on track to leave the Stanislaus River high and dry before Oct. 1.

And the forecast calls for the possibility of perhaps two days of light snow in the Sierra by month’s end and possibly a chance of rain for one day in Manteca.

On second thought, perhaps Monday wasn’t that beautiful of a day.

We are definitely in a fourth year of drought with little leftover storage to cushion deficit precipitation as in the previous three years. The odds of a fifth and a sixth year of drought are increasing.

Yet most of us are oblivious to the signs. Water still flows from our faucets, so what’s the harm in hosing down sidewalks, watering lawns despite morning moisture in the form of fog, or continuing to install more and more water-guzzling landscaping with each of the some 400-plus homes Manteca is expected to add through the year’s end?

Many of us still buy into 40-year-old data that had Los Angeles wasting “our” water with abandon. That’s no longer the case. Los Angeles now has a per capita daily water consumption rate of 152 gallons, some five gallons less than Manteca.

Based on a 2014 state report, as a region, once you remove agricultural uses out of the equation, the San Joaquin Valley used more water per capita than the Los Angeles region, 239 gallons compared to 189 gallons.

There is another little detail that shouldn’t go unnoticed. San Jose uses 144 gallons of water per capita a day while posh Hillsborough on the Bay Peninsula consumes a whopping 334 gallons a day. In Southern California, East Los Angeles residents use 42 gallons a day while Palm Springs consumes an astonishing 736 gallons per day and an upscale area of North San Diego 580 gallons a day. And in Sacramento, where water meters are far from universal, the per capita water consumption is 239 gallons.

It is clear that the rich consume more water than you and I. And just because they can afford it, should they be allowed to? It’s obvious the reason for that is their ability to afford large estates with expansive landscaping and big swimming pools. Palm Springs and the surrounding areas have 80 private and public golf courses. Given the fact rainfall rarely exceeds six inches a year in Palm Springs, it is clear that the lush greens are being kept green with imported water. Consider the irony that in Stanislaus County a golf course had to be allowed to go brown at Del Puerto Canyon in Patterson because of a lack of water, while the nearby California Aqueduct flows southward to keep courses green in Southern California.

And while the Golden State is slowing turning into the Brown State, most local officials — including in Manteca, Lathrop, and Ripon — have adopted a wait-and-see attitude before doing anything besides asking for voluntary conservation measures.

Part of the lack of concern is the fact the three cities all drink from underground sources while Manteca and Lathrop also use surface water. But consider this: A well just north of French Camp Road dropped 12 feet last year. Many farmers outside the South San Joaquin Irrigation District tap into the same aquifer the three cities use for drinking water.

If SSJID hadn’t developed surface water sources, farmers around here would have drawn on wells as heavily as they have farther south in the San Joaquin Valley. Not only would underground municipal water supplies be in jeopardy but land would also have been sinking.

SSJID is looking ahead. This year is going to be extremely tight but 2016 and beyond are downright scary. It is why they are gearing up to declare a water emergency next week.

The cities of Manteca, Ripon, and Lathrop need to do the same.

And they don’t need to hire water cops to cut water use.

With an emergency declaration they can move to put some effective water saving strategies into place right away:

• a moratorium on all new swimming pools.

• immediately replace front yard landscaping requirements for new homes with drought-resistant and low-water use shrubs and vegetation.

•  establish a purple hydrant at the Manteca wastewater treatment plant and require all developers to use recycled wastewater for dust control.

•  offer financial incentives for homeowners to replace front yard lawns — the single largest collective household use of water in Manteca — with low-water use landscaping.

• require before existing homes close escrow that front lawns be removed and planted with drought-resistant landscaping complete with moisture sensors and drip irrigation and then offer a “rebate” to the new homeowner who is footing the cost with a $50  month break on their municipal water bill for three years.

• reduce the distance between water heaters in new homes and point of use of hot water.

Those suggestions are essentially low hanging fruit.

But if they aren’t done soon elected leaders can — and should — be blamed if we get into full blown water shortages.

 

 

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209.249.3519.