Water conservation on the table for Merced

03/16/2014 5:56 PM

03/16/2014 7:49 PM

The Merced City Council will hear several options today for saving water. Some of them would be recommendations and some of them would be mandates.

A study session with a focus on water conservation is planned at 6 p.m., just before the regular meeting of the council at the Merced Civic Center, 678 W. 18th St.

The city has had some water conservation measures in place since 1992, including a watering schedule that allows sprinkler use three nights a week and only from 7 p.m. to 11 a.m. There is also an ordinance that prohibits using broken sprinklers.

Leah Brown, the city’s water conservation specialist, said the city has taken a mostly educational approach and rarely writes citations for violations. The citations range from $50 to $150.

“We want to encourage people to be as conservative as we can,” Brown said. “We have a stable supply, but our aquifers are still dropping.”

Brown will be involved in the presentation to the council, which is looking at ways to reduce water use. “We don’t live in a bubble. We’re still part of California and need to be very cautious about our usage,” she said.

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

If the council decided to implement a greater effort to conserve, it wouldn’t be alone. Leaders in Livingston and Atwater have adopted efforts to do so this year.

Some ideas being floated in Merced include shrinking the watering window with the cutoff two hours earlier, or 9 a.m., and reducing the number of watering days, particularly in summer. That could lessen the amount of water wasted through evaporation.

Another idea is to require carwash fund-raisers to take place where the water can be captured, such as on grass, instead of running into gutters.

Proposals include incentives, such as a “cash for grass” program in which the city would give a rebate to residents who replace their lawns with approved landscaping that needs less watering.

Other incentive programs could include rebates for installing water metering or low-flow toilets or washers.

Of those who use the city’s aquifer, UC Merced is the “biggest customer,” according to Director of Water Resources Michael Wegley. The university announced this week it has cut water use by 43 percent since 2007 with low-flow devices and limited watering, among other practices.

On the council’s regular agenda is a request to pay $62,865 in closing costs and a 3 percent real estate commission for the sale of the former Pepsi bottling plant. The money will come from the proceeds of the land sale, according to a city press release, and not general fund money.

Turlock-based Sun Valley Nut, LLC bought the West Avenue plant for $1.14 million. The almond processor plans to employ 75 people in the 134,304-square-foot facility.

City Council meetings are shown live through an Internet link at www.cityofmerced.org, and are broadcast on Comcast Channel 96.

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