Mike Wegley: Rain was nice, but we must still conserve

03/04/2014 4:16 PM

03/04/2014 8:13 PM

The rain made farmers happy and the snow in the mountains made skiers rejoice, but it didn’t solve the drought. It has still been a dry winter.

Here in Merced the storms watered our lawns and helped our flowers, but it didn’t do much else.

We use groundwater – water pumped from deep underground – and it takes decades for rainwater to seep through the layers of earth to recharge our drinking water supplies.

That’s why back in 1992 the City Council adopted water conservation measures to encourage residents to wisely use our most precious resource. These included the odd-even watering rule that regulates what day of the week residents can water outdoors. Addresses ending in an even number can water Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays; those ending in odd numbers can water Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. In order to cut down on midday evaporation, watering must happen before 11 a.m. or after 7 p.m.

There were other conservation measures enacted, such as requiring shut-off nozzles on hoses when residents are washing cars and making sure lawn sprinklers hit the grass and not sidewalks.

These conservation efforts are important even though the City of Merced doesn’t directly depend on rainfall for our water supply. Our water table, the level of water in our underground aquifer, is dropping at a rate of 2 feet per year. We must conserve.

About 60 percent of the water used in households goes on our lawns and landscapes. Wiser watering can cut that percentage without browning our front yards. Drip irrigation systems, cutting back on the number of days we irrigate and limiting the amount of time we irrigate our plants, can easily save water. Mulching plants and replacing plants with drought-tolerant landscaping will save water (and save on your water bill).

Those are simple remedies for a complex problem.

Gov. Jerry Brown has called on Californians to cut water use 20 percent. Some households are already water misers, going so far as to put out buckets to collect rainwater. But others can do a lot more to save water. Some of what they are doing now is breaking our ordinances.

Hosing down sidewalks and driveways is not water wise and against the ordinance. Running sprinklers during the heat of the day – from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. – wastes water to evaporation, and is against our ordinance. And if your sprinkler runs off onto your sidewalks and driveways, not only does it waste water, it violates the water conservation ordinance. And in all three examples not only does it waste our water, but it wastes your money.

The city is going to begin additional education and enforcement of conservation ordinances, but we also understand that we need to be the role model. So if you see a broken sprinkler head on a city park strip spouting water, or a broken pipe bubbling water, please report it – call (209) 385-6800 – so we can fix it. We don’t want to waste water either.

Here are some tips for living in a water-wise household:

• Washing a full load of dishes generally takes less water than hand washing.
• Adjust your lawn mower so that your grass can grow longer; taller grass shades roots and holds more water.
• Don’t water your lawn on windy days when most of the water will evaporate or blow off quickly.
• If water runs off your lawn quickly, adjust your timers so that you water more than once during your assigned days but for shorter periods of time.
• Leave lawn clippings on the ground; it’s good for the lawn’s nutrition and keeps water from evaporating quickly.
• Adjust your sprinklers monthly to accommodate seasonal changes.
• Brush your teeth or shave with the water off.
• Shorter showers. Stop by the city public works office, 1776 Grogan Ave., for a 5-minute shower timer.
• Water only when needed, more plants die from too much water than too little.

Our groundwater supply is our most precious community resource. We need to work together to protect it and preserve it. We can’t afford to waste it.

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