For Merced area schools, it’s a balancing act to try to conserve water while maintaining the recreation fields at campuses around the city.
To that end, the Merced Union High School District is continually tweaking a plan it started a couple of years ago, while the Merced City School District prepares a formal plan this summer.
In a memo last week to Merced Union schools, Assistant Superintendent Alan Peterson told staff members at all six of the traditional high school sites to cut watering by 30 percent to the landscape used for athletics. Water to non-playing surfaces is to be reduced by half.
The schools want to maintain fields for play, but need to find ways to conserve. “It really forces us to look at our landscape in a different way,” Peterson told the Sun-Star.
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The district experimented in 2014 on Merced High School, which uses Merced city water. The plan reduced water waste by 32 percent in 2014 compared with the previous year, according to school records. So, the plan is to be rolled out at other campuses this year, Peterson said.
The district also removed strips of grass between the street and the sidewalk at Buhach Colony High in another experiment to conserve water. The grass was replaced by bark – which will become more common at other high schools.
“(It’s) going to be an ongoing conversation here,” Peterson said. “I think we will continually try to improve the process.”
He said members of the district’s maintenance and operations staff have been proactive in their research and plans.
Merced City School District does not have a formal plan, according to Ken Testa, director of facilities for the district. Elementary and middle schools have been conserving water, he said.
The goal is to cut watering by one-third, Testa said. District employees are preparing a formal plan they expect to present to the Merced City board of trustees in June.
Testa said the district is attempting to educate all employees about the effort, to have as many eyes as possible on potential water waste. “We’re being as vigilant as we can,” he said.
The Merced City district is in the middle of a $7.3 million project to add an elementary school campus next to the middle school at 945 Buena Vista Drive. As the building goes up, Testa said, crews are putting in drought-tolerant plants and water-efficient fixtures – which will become commonplace for any new construction.
“We are preparing now for a whole different thought process for conserving water,” he said.
With large swaths of green grass, schools in cities around the county could be critical to efforts to conserve water, officials said. Several cities in Merced County will likely need the help of school campuses and other institutional water users to reach proposed goals.
The state Water Resources Control Board this month began considering new regulations for cities. Merced and Atwater face the biggest reduction of 36 percent. Livingston is looking at a 32 percent cut.
Mike Wegley, director of water resources for the city of Merced, said sites with so much green space play a big role in helping cities reach their goals under state mandates.
“We’d like to see more (drought) plans like that from the schools and the institutional-type users,” he said.