Water conservation efforts in Merced have had some success as the city tries to reach the 20 percent reduction goal, and now leaders are bracing for what is predicted to be another dry year.
Leaders said they believe it’s likely the state will call for more stringent conservation efforts from cities.
Michael Wegley, director of water resources for the city of Merced, said the city has reduced water use by an average of about 10 percent to 12 percent since new water restrictions were instituted about a year ago.
He said he would not be surprised if Gov. Jerry Brown tightens restrictions further by squashing lawn sprinkling altogether this year. “We figure the governor is probably going to do something here, and we’ll follow their lead,” he said.
The city measures its 17 active wells each January.
They are each down on average more than 3 feet since last year, when the city put in water-saving ordinances. That’s much better than the more than 12-foot drop in 2013, Wegley said. However, during the previous 10-year period, the wells declined on average only about 21/2 feet, he said.
It can be difficult to track who’s wasting water when only about half of the city has water meters, he said. The city is attempting to get a grant that would usher in water meters for the homes without them.
To try to conserve more water, Wegley said, he’s considering hiring part-time employees to patrol for water wasters. He said the city will probably also look at incentives to get homeowners to replace their lawns with landscaping that needs less water.
As the California drought drags on, the state Water Resources Control Board and other officials are considering expanding mandatory outdoor water restrictions on homeowners and adding new limits on restaurants, hotels and decorative fountains.
That means Californians still would not be able to wash cars with hoses that don’t shut off and would have to keep limiting the watering of their lawns.
The emergency regulations also authorized agencies to fine water wasters up to $500 a day, though such stringent enforcement has been rare in Merced and much of the state.
Possible new rules under consideration include a ban on running outdoor water fountains and prohibiting lawn watering during cold and rainy periods.
Other ideas floated by the state board could target businesses by requiring restaurants to serve water only on request and by telling hotels not to automatically provide guests with fresh towels and sheets every day. Some cities have similar rules already in place.
Last week, Frances Spivy-Weber, the water board vice chairwoman, said long-term water rules are in order. “We definitely need permanent regulations,” she said. “I just don’t see how we can enter the next 30 years with climate change without them.”
The board could consider the extension of current restrictions next month and take up other possible regulations later in the year.
The rainy season in the Valley is coming to a close in the next couple of months, and the National Weather Service in Hanford is expecting temperatures that are higher than normal through April with normal precipitation. That’s not encouraging news because Merced County needs a much wetter than normal spring to try to fill up its water storage system, according to meteorologist David Spector.
Since Oct. 1, Merced has had 5.82 inches of rain. It averages 8.11 inches at this point in the rainfall season.
Spector said Merced is forecast to see a couple of storms in the next seven days before the weather warms back up, but it’s unclear if the rain will be significant. “It looks like a couple of cold patches, and right back into the pattern we’ve seen most of the winter,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.