Merced City Council moves ahead on tightening water usage rules

tmiller@mercedsunstar.comMarch 17, 2014 

watering

Sprinklers quench a thirsty front lawn. Be sure you follow the rules, watering only on designated days and before 11 a.m. or after 7 p.m.

JOAQUIN SIOPACK 07/24/98 — Merced Sun-Star

— In response to the driest year on record in California, Merced City Council voted Monday to move forward with tightening water restrictions.

The unanimous vote came after a study session examining recommendations from the city’s water officials as well as council members.

City staff will begin drafting a new ordinance that reduces the number of days a week watering is allowed, shrinks the number of hours in which watering is permitted and requires carwash fundraisers to take place where the water can be captured before heading into gutters.

The council discussed whether to hold off on a decision until it got further input from plant experts.

“I think we need to approach this with a sense of urgency,” said Councilman Kevin Blake.

Gov. Jerry Brown has called for a statewide reduction of 20 percent by all water users. He made that announcement when he declared a drought in January.

Mercedians currently aren’t allowed to water outside vegetation on Mondays. Under a new ordinance, watering likely would be reduced from three days a week to two. Homeowners would be allowed to water on specific days based on their addresses.

The new ordinance would also allow four fewer hours in the window when lawn sprinkling is allowed. The city has had water conservation measures in place since 1992.

Marc Medefind, a Merced resident who spoke during Monday’s meeting, urged the City Council to beef up enforcement and get behind more water-saving programs. “Education is important, but I’d like to see a step up in enforcement,” the 58-year-old said.

The Margaret Sheehy Elementary teacher said he is replacing his front yard and part of his backyard with xeriscape vegetation, which requires little or no water. He encouraged the council to adopt incentive programs that would get more people to do the same.

The city has a citation system that ranges from $50 to $150. City staff said there have been no grants acquired for incentive programs, like metering or high-efficiency washers or low-flush toilets.

Mayor Stan Thurston said if the state is serious about conservation, it should free up grant money. “Our city can’t really offer rebates, that I know of, without grants from the state,” he said.

State law requires metering for all residential water users by 2025. A meter costs an estimated $250 to $300 to install.

Councilman Tony Dossetti said the council will need to start thinking about greater restrictions in the near future.

He suggested looking into requiring new buildings to include water-efficient fixtures and find ways to use recycled wastewater. “We need to really look at all the other options to conserve water,” he said.

City staff encouraged residents to save water on their own, such as washing their vehicles on the grass, and recommended that restaurants provide water on demand only.

Councilman Josh Pedrozo encouraged people to consider xeriscape, and pointed to the G Street underpass as an example that it’s more than just cacti and rocks.

He also encouraged residents to call when they see a problem in their neighborhoods. “It’s kind of everybody doing their part to maintain this precious resource,” he said.

To report a sprinkler in disrepair or watering done when it’s not permitted, call Merced’s Water Conservation Specialist Leah Brown at (209) 385-6800.

Californians can reduce their water usage by making a few small changes, according to Save Our Water.

Taking showers that last less than five minutes can save about 15 gallons of water a day, and fixing leaky pipes can save 70 gallons a day, the group maintains.

Sun-Star staff writer Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or tmiller@mercedsunstar.com.

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