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City: State water cutback too tough
Quality, not quantity the issue

There is no way the city can achieve an additional 28 percent cutback in water use in Ceres without draconic measures that will affect the everyday life of residents. That was the conclusion of a report delivered to the Ceres City Council at Monday's meeting by Jeremy Damas, the city of Ceres' Deputy Public Works Director.

The council listened to what kind of far-reaching decisions the state is expecting it to make while waiting to see the state's final dictates as California deals with the fourth dry year.

Starting June 1, the state expects Ceres to find ways to cut back on water consumption by 28 percent, or 566 million gallons in seven months.

The council could enact a number of drastic measures, including not allowing any new construction, not issuing any permits for swimming pools, banning all outdoor watering, ending all new sod replacement projects, enacting heavier water wasting fines and broadening water saving equipment rebate offers. But members seemed resistant to making it hurt. Another option is a two-days-per-week outdoor watering schedule.

"Obviously we all need to conserve - these are very challenging times ... but I'm not ready to make any drastic changes," said Mayor Chris Vierra. "There has to be a little common sense. I don't know that we are going to get to ... telling everyone you aren't going to water anything. I don't know that that is real. The residents have done a tremendous job."

City Manager Toby Wells stood by his assertion that Ceres faces a water quality issue more than it faces a quantity issue.

The average water table, or static water level, under Ceres is about 61 feet.

"Those numbers are the same today as they were 10 years ago," noted Damas.

However, when Ceres turns on the pumps to draw that water to the surface, the level draws down 14 feet, "meaning our equipment is working harder to get water from a deeper source."

Damas said barring an end to the drought, nobody knows how long Valley cities can go before water is gone. Turlock is reporting a drop of 30 feet in their static water table.

"We have the quantity, we're just worried about the quality now because when start changing sources of where you're pulling water from, you start pulling arsenics and have more quality issues."

During 2014, Ceres residents used 2.4 billion gallons of water from 15 wells, which is a reduction from 2.6 billion gallons delivered in 2013.

Damas is unsure how the state came up with its formula but Governor Jerry Brown is not considering any efforts made by cities to scale back water use prior to July 2014.

"We've got about a 21 percent decrease in water between 2010 compared to today. But they're not going back to 2010. They're back to 2013."

The state says Ceres residents average 166 gallons per person per day. While that figure is much less than what was used in 2008 - before water meters helped encourage conservation - the number is high compared to coastal areas like Santa Cruz which uses 44.9 gallons per person per day because of a lack of lawns. Hayward's 52 gallons and San Francisco's 45 gallons figure makes water users in the Valley look like water hogs.

By contrast, Madera County averages 298 gallons and Bakersfield 277 gallons.

"It's really a hard target for anybody in the Valley to hit," commented Damas.

The California State Water Resources Control Board will adopt the executive order on May 5, said Damas, with threats of $10,000 per day fines to water providers who fail to see cutbacks. The governor has been vague about how or if those fines would be imposed, however.

City leaders discussed where water consumption can be reduced, whether it's telling McDonald's to quit washing down the outside of restaurants or scaling back on park watering. Damas said that residents must get onboard with the city's state-of-the-art web portal that allows them to track water use hour by hour. Currently only about 1,200 Ceres households, or 10 percent, are even signed up. The website can help residents become aware of excessive use or leaks on the property.

"With our web portal we are able to do a lot," said Damas. "This is where we are going to make it or break it. The web portal allows us to monitor usage. We know how much is going through our meters every hour of every every. We can target anything or anyone. For example, the Stanislaus County Jail uses about three million gallons a day. They're pretty close to 50 million gallons a month."

Central Valley High School uses 12 million gallons per month. Ceres schools collectively exceeded their target use by 22 million gallons per month.

Damas feels getting a better understanding of the various accounts is key to getting less water being used. But it's not as simple as telling schools to use less water for grassy areas. "They can't let grass die because of the kids, otherwise it causes hay fever and all that."

All car washes in Ceres use about 5.5 million gallons of water each month.

"We have 191 irrigation accounts that we really need to wrap our hands around to figure out how much water they're really using."

Ceres will likely pursue a plan to educate residents to keep usage down under 6,250 gallons per month in the off-season months of January through March and October through December, said Damas.

AB 1420, passed in 2009, called for cities to adopt 14 water conservation measures to be adopted into the Urban Water Management Plan. Ceres has met 11 and three are in progress, one being an audit of irrigation accounts.

The Valley's groundwater table has suffered in the drought because of little rainfall on the Valley floor and because there is less flood irrigating on crops which has helped recharge it in years past.

"When you compound the issue with the draught that's up at Don Pedro, TID or MID are now allowing as much water to flow to the farmers so therefore you're going to have less water being percolated. And the farmers up on the eastern end are having to make up the difference so they're installing and or using very large groundwater wells, very big ones. I mean 2,000 and 3,000 gallons per minute."

If the water is dispersed to crops, that water is either evaporating or being sucked up by tree roots, not adding to the groundwater table.