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The green, green grass of homes
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Call this a tale of a city divided.

In the Shasta Park neighborhood chat with more than a few homeowners and you’ll find many who have slashed their watering back to two days a week with the advent of milder weather.

It has had little impact on their front yard lawns that were already stressed with telltale yellow spots due to cutting back watering during the heat of summer. Several took to cutting their grass higher which in turn reduced the need somewhat for water to stay green.

Meanwhile trees and many shrubs — just like the orchards flanking Manteca — have started shutting down as the growing season has been shortened by two to three weeks due to the weather. Less water isn’t going to do much harm.

Across town near Sierra High is a homeowner — according to an irate resident who outlined the neighbor’s water conservation sins in a voice message — who has “the biggest lot for blocks” and apparently waters their lawn “at least five times a week” in the wee hours of the morning. The neighbor goes on to list other transgressions including washing down the driveway and washing the family vehicles with an open house. 

And while the caller leaving the message may indeed have a water abuser living in her neighborhood, officials up and down California say people are more prone to tattle on others than change their own water use habits for the better.

Green grass, per se, doesn’t make a homeowner a water hog. Many homeowners like those living in Del Webb at Woodbridge have smaller yards, proportionately less grass and more compact landscaping with efficient irrigation systems. Their per capita water footprint is smaller. If you doubt that ask to see a Del Webb resident’s water bill.

Given the fact water — beyond the flat rate of $17.15 — isn’t exactly a budget buster for most people what is accounting for the differences is lifestyles and technology.

Del Webb water use isn’t lower simply because its residents are older. There are no big yards in Del Webb where you could plant grass for half a football field. All yards have efficient irrigation systems including drip for most plants.

Near Shasta Park where many homes are 40 years plus, the grass — and the ground beneath it — has compacted over the years. That means water runoff is greater.

As for as that home near Sierra High, there is a good chance the grass is greener due to a number of reasons. Much of the area has a high concentration of sandy loam. The owner also could be one of the few folks who aerate their lawns which helps water flow more efficiently to the roots as well as helps grass be greener.

The challenges Manteca — and the rest of California — faces in water are never going to recede even if El Nino delivers big time this year and we then return to “average” weather years for a stretch. It’s because the backbone of the state’s water supply consisting of massive reservoirs has not been expanded since the 1960s when California had 16 million people or 22 million less than we have today. While Manteca doesn’t get any water from one of those massive reservoirs built by the federal and state governments as the surface water is actually captured by dams put in place by the South San Joaquin Irrigation District, much of the food we eat comes from farms that do rely to a large degree on the State Water Project and Central Valley Water Project

Manteca and the rest of California is facing a state mandate that groundwater basins be stabilized. Essentially that means cities such as Manteca won’t be able to pump out more than is returned to the basin.

That mandate will effectively require us to not just make water savings now in place of 31 percent in Manteca permanent but to further reduce water consumption.

It is wishful thinking to believe converting large expanses of lawn that accounts for the biggest share of water use in Manteca and perhaps the entire Central Valley and Southern California when it comes to urban water consumption is only a temporary thing due to the current drought.

It isn’t by chance that the post-World War II neighborhoods with exceptions like Del Webb are the largest users of water in Manteca. It is because they have the larger lots. Larger lots in most cases translates into larger lawns. And with lawns accounting for anywhere between 35 to 60 percent of all domestic water use, the answer is obvious.

And the rest way to implement that answer is do what Las Vegas did: Prohibit lawns in front yards.

It is one thing to have lawns in back yards that people and pets may actually use day in and day out. It is entirely a different thing when lawns are in front yards since they are primarily for looks. Yes, they do provide oxygen and keep dust down but there are other ways to do that with plants, shrubs, and non-lawn grasses that consume sigfnciantly less water.

The current drought may end but our water shortage won’t.

And make no doubt about it, we have a water shortage given how levels of groundwater has been essentially dropping since the 1920s.

To believe otherwise is reckless.