Sunday provided a nice respite from our descent into what is shaping up as our second drought in five years.
There was a period of steady rain mid-morning followed by a chilly late evening soaking while more 120 miles away light snow fell on the parched Stanislaus River watershed above the 8,500-foot level.
It was nice but it didn’t make a dent in the worry lines of those managing the water supply needed to assure we have adequate water for cities and farms in the Northern San Joaquin Valley for this year let alone 2022 if Mother Nature strings together a third dry year.
Yet less than 30 hours later after the last rain fell water was flowing down Powers Avenue gutters where the lawn sprinklers came on around 2 a.m. Monday in front of the fire station.
This matters for two reasons. We are clearly in a drought. It is also a violation of city water rules that were imposed 71 months ago and are still in effect — at least still on paper.
The city prohibits landscape irrigation during or within 48 hours following measurable rainfall defined by storms that create runoff or puddles.
The City of Manteca was not alone in violating the rules. During just over a mile long drive other culprits that had lawn sprinklers on sometime between midnight and 2 a.m. long enough to create runoff into gutters was Lincoln School with their playing fields and three residences.
This is not intended to slam the City of Manteca for not following its own rules although it is clear that they should be shamed in doing so.
It simply shows that we have not learned too much from previous droughts and how the watering of lawns that the city itself over the years has repeatedly indicated is by far the largest use of municipal water continues to be a careless drain on what is not an infinite water supply.
There really are three basic issues and arguably a fourth one that was raised by the City Council appointed Manteca Millennial Committee.
*There needs to be better enforcement and/or compliance to wise water use by the city and everyone else in Manteca.
*The continued allowance of lawns just for looks in front yards of new construction is a long-term threat to water sustainability.
*There needs to be a step up in efforts to replace front yard lawns of existing homes with more water efficient landscaping or xeriscape.
The fourth issue is whether it is time to rework the city’s turf replacement incentive program to allow what might come across as a radical proposal to many — allowing city rebate dollars to encourage replacing front yard grass with vegetable gardens.
That is what the Manteca Millennial Committee recommended during last week’s council discussion about establishing a community garden. The council, that appointed the committee, pretty much brushed it aside.
Manteca — just like every other California jurisdiction — is going to have to get in the habit of making efficient water use a top priority in perpetuity. Climate change politics aside, what is now the western United States has a long scientifically documented history spanning thousands of years of reoccurring mega-droughts. Typically they run for 50 plus years with instances where the dry spell is punctured by a year or two of normal of above average precipitation.
The logical move is to start requiring moisture sensors for all new front yard and commercial landscaping as well as all city and landscape maintenance district landscaping that is not park turf with heavy use.
This is not a radical idea. For the past five years, River Islands at Lathrop has required moisture sensors in all front yards of homes being built. They also use moisture sensors in common area landscaping that is irrigated with either non-potable water or recycled wastewater
That’s a far cry from where Manteca is today.
One might think with the close call we had with the last drought that those people were entrust with protecting the community — the policy makers we elect to the City Council and the department heads that oversee municipal services and enforcement actions — things would be different today than they were in 2011 before the last drought hit us in 2012 through 2016.
While we still have water conservation rules in effect now year round in Manteca, unlike Ripon and other communities, is not enforcing them.
Yes the city has reduced the allowable size of a front yard of a new home that can be planted in grass, but if you are pursuing a general plan update that will eventually accommodate 36,000 plus more housing units the allowable area for lawn must be reduced to zero.
Water is not an infinite resource. We are under a state mandate to eventually not remove more water from an aquifer in a given year than can be replenished.
Ground water just like surface water is subject to drought cycles. Worse yet, surface water is often the target of litigation by forces — including the state — trying to hijack the legally adjudicated and developed water rights.
Developers should be pushing for a city ban against all front yard grass in new construction. Of course they may say that is what a buyer may want. Sorry but part of the price of being able to buy a newly built home in Manteca means not only will you pay more taxes based on the higher assessed value plus a slew of growth related fees but you also can’t have grass in your front yard.
If you don’t like the price of buying a new home in Manteca, then buy somewhere else. It is no different than Del Webb in its age restricted communities tightly regulating what people can do with their front yards. Everyone is made well aware of the rules upfront. If you don’t like them, then don’t buy in Del Webb. The same would be true of a Manteca rule banning all grass in the front yards of new homes and commercial endeavors.
It is clear elected leaders have little appetite for dealing with long-term measures aimed at addressing the sustainability of Manteca. The lack of any council member responding to the Millennial Advisory Committee’s turf to vegetable garden city inventive idea underscores that.
But if they are going to pursue land use options in the general plan update that will eventually plant the seeds to allow a population of 206,368, they need to mandate actions that will significantly reduce water consumption.
The Manteca Millennial Committee goes a step further. It addresses not just water use but also the affordability of being able to live in Manteca as it is not just the cost of shelter and electricity that makes it a struggle for many to live here.
Manteca needs to get ahead of not just what clearly will soon be a drought emergency but to also steer the city toward policies and stepped up enforcement protocols that will make sure the city they are governing and the future city they are shaping is sustainable.
This column is the opinion of editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of The Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org