Coming off of the heels of Gov. Jerry Brown’s executive order imposing the first mandatory, statewide water use reductions in California history, reports show that cumulatively, the drought-ridden state only reduced water usage by 2.8 percent from February 2013 through February 2015.
The city of Patterson reduced water usage by 18 percent in that same time period. This sits about average in the area, with cities like Newman lowering consumption 26 percent and Modesto only eight.
These percentage drops are based on residential gallon per capita use; Patterson’s is 80.
"It’s almost an unfair comparison, because (other cities) might have recycled water sources. We have the non-potable water source, but we don’t recycle our water," said city of Patterson Water Resources Manager Maria Encinas. "When trying to figure out the gallon per capita, you do not include non-potable water."
State officials released a preliminary water reduction plan, with cuts ranging from 10 to 35 percent issued across 400 California water agencies depending on a given community’s gallon per capita rate in order to reach a collective reduction of 25 percent.
Patterson will have to lower daily water usage by 25 percent. Communities with higher gallon per capita rates, such as Beverly Hills, whose water usage actually increased by 3 percent from 2013 to 2015, have to cut consumption by 35 percent.
State officials are asking cities with the lowest gallon per capita ratios, like San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Hayward, to reduce residential water usage by 10 percent.
The city of Patterson had already been making moves to reduce water usage before last week’s mandatory restrictions hit. Last year, the city enacted Stage II of its Drought Contingency Plan, which put in place certain restrictions in the city before the State Water Resources Control Board would require them across California on March 17, 2015.
"Stage I wasn’t restrictive enough, so we needed to go one step forward and do the Stage II," Encinas said. Of the March 17 restrictions, Patterson already had in place the mandate that restaurants and food service establishments could only serve patrons water upon request. What the city had to adopt, along with the rest of the state, was the restriction that citizens cannot water their lawn or ornamental landscapes during or 48 hours after measurable rainfall.
Encinas outlined two items from Brown’s April 1 executive order that will affect the city of Patterson and its residents directly.
First is the prohibition by the State Water Board on the irrigation of ornamental turf on street medians with potable water. Patterson has grassy medians along Baldwin Road, and the city has already stopped watering them.
"Luckily, the palm trees are on different hydrazone timers, so the palm trees are still going to get watered, but the grass will not," Encinas said.
The second item on last week’s executive order that Encinas said will directly affect the city is the prohibition of irrigating with potable water outside of newly constructed homes or buildings, except when irrigation is delivered by drip or microspray systems. "So basically any newly constructed home or building will not be allowed to have turf in front of their house or in front of the building," she said.
"Any new development that we see, you’re not going to see the turf anymore," Encinas added. "Their landscape is probably going to have to consist of some type of xeriscape or drought-tolerant landscape. They’re just going to have to be creative."
This prohibition on new development will only affect irrigation with potable water; non-potable water usage will not be restricted.
"For example, Restoration Hardware: They will not have to comply with this order because their irrigation is going to be irrigated with non-potable water," Encinas said. "They will not have to make any additional changes."
When the city of Patterson’s Drought Contingency Plan was put in place last year, the city reduced watering times for residents from four days a week to three. While new restrictions do not mention further cutting allowed days, "that is something that internally at staff level we’re going to decide, whether we keep it to the three days or go to two days," Encinas said. "We’re taking a look at our water consumption numbers, and then we’ll be able to make that determination."
City rebate programs
Patterson has two ongoing rebate programs to promote water conservation available to its residents.
Its Cash for Grass program has proven popular after an increase in refund rates from 50 cents to $1 for every square foot of turf removed. The city actually ran out of money to pay for all of the applications sent in, but Encinas said they were able to secure more funds.
"There’s definitely been a lot of interest in the last couple of months," she said, "overwhelming interest, actually, because it’s just me. I have 17 pending applications."
"One thing that Mike Willett, our public works director, doesn’t want to do—if we have a good project before us, and we see that there’s going to be substantial water savings, we don’t want to deny them. We will find the money," Encinas added. "We will transfer it from somewhere else. We will find the money to be able to approve that project."
The city also has in place a high-efficiency toilet rebate program, which pays back $100 to qualifying residents for every inefficient toilet in their household that they replace with one up to modern standards. That means replacing a toilet that uses more than 1.6 gallons of water per flush with one that uses 1.28 or less.
Future effects on residents
Encinas said that there are steps the city can take and is taking to help lower the gallon per capita rate in Patterson and hit the 25 percent water usage reduction mark before directly affecting its residents.
"We’re taking some of that water savings just by us cutting down an additional day on our parks," Encinas said, referring to the city voluntarily cutting watering days at its parks from three to two. "We don’t want them to go dead for the livelihood of recreation, community and all that, but we definitely need to save water."
Additionally, per a Non-potable Pipeline Phase III project, the city is taking eight parks off of the potable distribution system and onto a non-potable distribution system, which includes, for example, the T.W. Patterson Sports Complex.
Encinas also said that as a result of the new statewide water usage restrictions, enforcement of said restrictions will have to become more stringent. "It’s going to require people to go out and enforce," she said. "Our penalties are in place. We do have a structure in place."
City penalties for breaking water usage restrictions include a written warning on the first offense before fines are implemented. Encinas praised residents, as the city has not yet had to fine anyone.
"But with these new restrictions, of course, comes new enforcement, more enforcement," Encinas said. "We are definitely going to do our part, and we’ll eventually ask the public to do their part."
Additional information about the city of Patterson’s water usage and how the state’s drought conditions will continue to affect local residents will be included in a presentation to City Council during their April 21, 2015, meeting in City Hall.
Nathan Duckworth can be reached at 892-6187 ext. 307 or email@example.com.