As strange as it might sound, Manteca is ahead of the curve when it comes to stepping up its game to conserve water.
A quick survey of other cities in the region doesn’t reveal anyone that has taken as comprehensive of an approach. That’s a scary fact given the fourth year of the drought is expected to essentially drain a number of reservoirs leaving precious little water for anyone at the start of a fifth drought year. It is the carryover storage that cities have burned through over the last three years that have kept things humming as if there was no water shortage.
The Manteca City Council’s initial effort to reduce overall water consumption by 25 percent and assure that there will be a carryover for 2016 is described by City Manager Karen McLaughlin as “baby steps.”
That said, there are two distinct and vocal schools of thought — one that says the rules don’t go far enough and another that says some of the moves and pending proposals go too far.
Education is key, as Councilman Vince Hernandez points out. But his apprehension level should be considerably lower about water enforcement assistants citing those that refuse to listen and learn. Just because you can afford to pay for water doesn’t mean you should be allowed to waste it. Water is a resource secured and developed by the community for the common good.
Mayor Steve DeBrum — who agrees with Hernandez about educating first — is absolutely correct that there must be enforcement targeting egregious water wasters. The rules Manteca has put in place are essentially smart water use rules. They are not unreasonable. Plus after a warning if a citation is issued, the offender under city rules has the opportunity to avoid a fine by attending a water conservation education class. If that doesn’t take hold, then the fines start escalating severely on subsequent offenses. That is more than reasonable and fair.
The council, to their credit, made it clear Tuesday night that this is just a start.
There are two things they are bringing back immediately at the next meeting on May 7. One is requiring tankless water heaters in new construction and the other is requiring all existing homes being sold to have in place select water-saving features as well as meeting the landscaping rule that new development must now meet.
McLaughlin indicated Wednesday that the staff will also bring back a proposal that several council members requested to reduce permissible days for businesses and residents to water each week from three to two days.
Assuming there are no technical issues, tankless water heaters placed near the point of use in new homes will increase the cost of construction. Some builders may object. That said, they should keep this in mind: It is to their benefit to make sure water use is reduced unless their objective is just to build homes perhaps this year and then pull up stakes and move to the East Coast. The city may not be considering a building moratorium now, but if use trends continue along with the drought there will be legal justification to pull the plug on new home building for health and safety reasons.
And while jobs are on the line, the city’s first and foremost obligation is to the health and safety of existing residents and not to future residents.
If California continues to grow even if weather patterns return to normal to some degree it is clear, water use per capita must continue to drop.
It is why all existing homes that are sold must have low-flow toilets, low-flow shower heads and the new standard for landscaping in front yards before a deal can close escrow. The landscaping requirement is simple: No more than 25 percent of the landscaped area of a front yard can be in turf. Existing landscaping per se won’t be torn out. What will likely happen, though, is that large chunks of grass will have to be replaced with trees, shrubs, and plants that use less water.
Such a requirement for properties closing escrow would reduce long-term maintenance costs as it is cheaper to maintain landscaping that uses less water than it is to pay for watering and mowing lawns. Also cutting the amount of mowing time reduces pollution for two-stroke engines.
It can’t be stated enough. Lawns account for almost 60 percent of all water use in Manteca.
It is why scaling back allowable days for residents and businesses watering each week from three to two days needs to be done sooner than later.
It is somewhat easier on grass and landscaping to establish a reduced water pattern to condition them before it heats up.
That said making such a move now gives an opportunity for the city to educate people on how to reduce lawn stress and help grass survive. That can be done by not cutting grass as short and breaking watering down on permissible days by having a station of sprinklers come on for three to five minutes, go off for an hour and then come on one more time for three to five minutes. It reduces both run-off and increases moisture absorption.
Our laissez faire approach to water use took years to get us into the point where we are careless with one of our most — if not most — precious natural resource. What Manteca is doing is a start. Things aren’t going to change overnight although it is clear we must change our water use patterns sooner than later.
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 email@example.com or 209.249.3519.