Manteca wasted hundreds of thousands of gallons needlessly during the recent storms
So did most of California from Redding to Los Angeles.
While California counts on the Sierra snowpack for close to 70 percent of the water it uses in a given year for cities and farms, most of the rest of it comes from underground aquifers.
Most of the rain that falls in cities such as Manteca ends up as runoff flowing into storm retention basins, then into lined canals that dump into the Delta and ultimately San Francisco Bay.
Even if we got the same amount of rain annually, each year more and more water will make its way into the Pacific Ocean instead of recharging aquifers. That’s because with every rooftop that goes up, every square foot of asphalt rolled down, and each section of cement poured there is more impervious surfaces created.
It is why flood frequencies have increased. It is also part of the reason why water tables are dropping.
Manteca Municipal Code 17.48.050 requires that at least 35 percent of the front yard of a single family or duplex lot be landscaped.
It is primarily to reduce runoff since the city’s storm collection system is engineered only to collect “x” amount of water. The secondary reason is to make sure water seeps into the ground and ultimately into aquifers.
If this provision of the municipal code were enforced it would ultimately reduce neighborhood flooding as well as help recharge the aquifer. But like many provisions of the municipal code it isn’t enforced once the original permit for building a home is signed off.
Manteca allows the addition of concrete areas in front yards without a permit. That means the 35 percent rule is ignored. The biggest violators are expansive concrete RV pads.
Enforcing it would compromise property rights, right? Guess again. What is done with your property can impact other property. Run-off is calculated when subdivisions are created. If enough lots fail to meet the 35 percent minimum landscape requirement, property downstream from your runoff will ultimately be impacted.
The worst case example of wasted storm water is Los Angeles.
Not only does the concrete expanse of the Los Angeles Basin send water rushing into storm drains but those storm drains dump into the concrete-lined Los Angeles River making sure little water ever seeps into the ground as it all ends up in the Pacific Ocean.
The City of Los Angeles spends $400 million a year buying water from elsewhere. It has taken some steps to collect rainwater. They have created “spreading grounds” that are sand and gravel bottom pits designed to allow water to seep back into the ground.
The city captures 3.6 billion gallons of rainwater each year via spreading grounds. Manteca does the same thing but to a lesser degree in parks with grass-lined storm basins. While grass isn’t as efficient at letting runoff pass through it still does.
Los Angeles in mid-2015 is expected to roll-out a storm water capturing master plan.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles in November launched a program offering 1,000 free 55-gallon rain barrels to collect rain for landscape irrigation. The city ran through its supply quickly and has a waiting list.
Manteca might want to consider permanent measures even if the three-year drought weakens its hold. That’s because water supply is going to continue to be a big concern due to growth.
One easy way is ban new concrete RV pads and even driveways and instead require permeable pavement for new construction. This can be either in the form of decomposed granite, reinforced grass (the grass grows between a reinforced honeycomb), or installing old-fashioned ribbon driveways.
The last two options also reduce heat during the hot months of spring, summer and late fall plus enhance the curb appeal of a home by reducing concrete.
It is important that city leaders don’t just sleep walk through the water conservation measures that are being mulled over in 2015.
There are passive solutions that can address both excess water use and excess runoff while sharpening a neighborhood’s visual appeal and reduce power costs by softening the impact of heat.
And while less concrete means more grass, there is a multitude of drought-resistant native grasses that can be used that even reduce the need for mowing which in turn reduces noise.
The challenges posed by the drought shouldn’t be approached as reducing our lifestyle but actually enhancing it.
We need solutions that are California-centric and not those pushed by those who fearfully cling to one-size fits all solutions.
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.