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Memo to council: Its a drought emergency
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Manteca’s municipal staff — based on the reality of budget cuts not to mention the City Council’s own narrative — is doing a Herculean job of keeping things going.

It’s too bad the City Council isn’t pulling its share of the weight. 

The Public Works Department is a prime example. They are dealing with the nuances of 400 homes a year being built and overseeing the infrastructure needed as well as making sure they have municipal services such as water, sewer, and garbage. They are working on four interchange projects. They are working on green energy initiatives to reduce power costs at the wastewater treatment plant. They are trying to find a way to turn wet garbage into a fuel source to meet state mandates to divert more garbage from being buried in a landfill to keep customer rates down. They are trying to do studies to make sure adequate fees are in place to pay for major streets, interchanges and such so growth pays its fair share. There are routine maintenance issues for streets, sewer, and water that are piling up. The pressure is on to get in place a plan to recycle wastewater and implement it. And that’s just for starters.

Last week the council increased the workload even more by essentially saying they wanted all of the water savings strategies presented to them worked on in greater detail and brought back. They offered no priority except to try and avoid resorting to water cops and fines if possible.

Given we could well be heading into a fourth year of drought and the fact the Public Works Department isn’t exactly twiddling its collective thumbs, it would be nice if the council had picked out five items from the long list of possibilities and told staff these are the water saving priorities.

If they need help deciding here’s a few easy ones:

• 1) Requiring developers to use recycled water for dust control.

Several council members obviously misunderstood what Public Works Director Mark Houghton was suggesting. He wasn’t advocating reducing the amount of water for dust control but suggested the city stop using expensive and scarce drinking water and instead require contractors to drive water trucks to a purple hydrant at the wastewater treatment plant to fill up and not hook into fire hydrants. Woodland earlier this year put in such purple hydrants at their treatment plant to allow farmers desperate for water to access treated recycled wastewater. 

• 2) Require all new residential and commercial construction to have smart landscaping controls that can read the moisture of the soil and require the use of landscaping that needs watering only two or three times a week.

This at the very least prevents Manteca from continuing to compound its problems as 400 plus new homes a year are built.

• 3) Offering cash for grass.

Since grass is the biggest water user, this makes a lot of sense. If people get an incentive of say up to $500 to rip out front yard grass and replace it with more water efficient landscaping and drip irrigation systems both the city and homeowner will come out winners even if the process for the homeowner costs twice that amount. The city gets a substantial reduction in water use and the homeowner gets a reduced monthly water bill. There will also be less grass to cut to reduce noise and air pollution from two-strike lawnmower engines. The city saves even more by reducing the need to drill more expensive municipal water wells as Manteca grows.

• 4) Replacing turf at city facilities with drought-tolerant landscaping.

The Civic Center has a lot of grass area as does the golf-course tennis courts along Union Road that is just for looks as they are rarely used for anything else. The city could replace the grass with native grasses such as at the Lathrop Road fire station or the transit center. Not only does it take significantly less water but it rarely has to be cut meaning it will free time up for park maintenance crews.

• 5) Cutting back the days anyone can water — schools, residents, the city, and businesses — from four to three.

Most people are consciously trying to do a better job watering. By banning watering on a Monday and splitting the remaining weekdays and weekend between odd and even addresses it could be enough to get people to fine tune their watering even more. As far making an example out of water wasters that irrigate too much and too long, start with the big water users — the city and the schools.

Perhaps the biggest collective sin of the council is not facing the real music. With a little luck the severe drought will go away in a year or five. The real reality is this: California is an arid land. As the state grows water sources will be taxed more and more. That’s why thrifty water use must become a way of life and not a reaction to a drought emergency.

That said, it would be nice if the council at least acted like there was an emergency in terms of surface water sources drying up and underground aquifers dropping, and be bit a little more focused.

Once water is wasted, you can’t get it back until nature decides to do so.


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 or 209.249.3519.