How real is the drought?
Just ask the folks in Cambria or East Porterville.
In Cambria, they slashed water use this past summer by 44 percent.
Residents have been taking showers once every two days with some going longer in between. They collected the water they showered in buckets to flush toilets.
But when last fall neared it was clear — the coastal community of 6,000 was on track to run out of water from the San Simeon Creek watershed by March.
In East Porterville, southeast of Tulare, wells have run dry. It has left 1,300 residents without water. They rarely flush toilets. Showers have been replaced by “bird baths” or sponge baths, although the state has brought in emergency showers on a truck bed such as those used after hurricanes. Bottled water is made available for drinking.
Closer to Manteca, residents in much of the Tuolumne County foothills look at dead landscaping well aware that the stretch of rainy weather in early December is far from being enough to even provide a Band-Aid for them in a fourth year of drought.
Meanwhile, there are still Californians in the dead of winter hosing down sidewalks and driveways instead of using brooms to sweep up dirt and yard debris.
Cambria has managed to find a partial solution.
A desalination plant the water district serving the community has tried to forward since the 1990s will come on line this month much to the chagrin of some state regulators as well as more than a few environmentalists.
Cambria used Governor Brown’s declaration of a drought emergency to move forward a desalination plant in record time — a neck-breaking six months by California standards. It employs brackish groundwater that has roughly 10 percent the salt of seawater. It also recycles treated wastewater. Cambria is joining Orange County, Sand City, and Avalon on Catalina Island among California cities with desalination plants. The Cambria plant will generate 280 acre feet of water a year or roughly a third of the needs of the community.
Orange County has been recycling treated wastewater into drinking water since 2008, generating 70 million gallons a day. They are kicking it up to 100 million gallons this year.
In November, San Diego started the ball rolling on a $2.5 billion project to convert treated wastewater into drinking water. By 2023, the plant will generate 15 million gallons a day. It will reach 83 million gallons a day in 2035 when it will supply a third of the city’s domestic water needs. That’s a big deal for California’s second-largest city with 1.3 million residents that imports 85 percent of its water.
And in the Silicon Valley, where 1.8 million people are served by the Santa Clara Valley Water District, a decision was made to move forward a plan to convert treated wastewater into drinking water for Sunnyvale and other nearby areas.
Two things are clear.
California can no longer afford the folly of landscaping as if this is the Midwest or the South where it rains virtually once every week in the summer and spring. The Golden State is blessed with a Mediterranean climate. We need to adapt our water use especially for ornamental landscaping to reflect that reality instead of using imported water to transform the landscape into something one would see east of the Rockies.
At the same time, we are literally flushing away our future.
For over to a decade Manteca has toyed with the idea of recycling treated wastewater to use primarily for landscaping irrigation. It’s been used longer than that to grow corn for dairy silage on property surrounding the treatment plant that the city leases to a farmer.
Why hasn’t the idea advanced? After the city finally cleared numerous state and regional hurdles to get approval to use it for irrigation at the Big League Dreams sports complex and nearby areas, they decided the cost wasn’t low enough. The city stuck with a “temporary” irrigation well at the complex.
But that cost analysis was incomplete. It never factored in the avoidable or delayed expense of having to sink new wells, or use treated surface water to irrigate landscaping. If the city uses less potable water due to treated wastewater being used in residential front yard landscaping and elsewhere in the city including schools and parks, then existing wells will be stretched longer, delaying the need to drill costly $2 million to $4 million wells.
The city has called in experts to help it craft a water master plan that will include using recycled wastewater.
That sounds good but that won’t do the trick.
The City Council needs to make it clear from the start that it will no longer tolerate dumping 9 million gallons of treated wastewater daily into the San Joaquin River where it makes its way to other users, including those in Los Angeles.
We are throwing away not just water that is critical for health and safety in Manteca but also water that is vital to keep our economy strong whether it is urban or agrarian.
The city can’t move forward without a master plan. It will never go forward, though, without a sustained political will. The last 10 years plus have made that clear.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 209.249.3519.