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Park, school water use addressed
Neel Park
The city and school district say theyre conserving water but sheer size dictates that watering schedules will not be the same as residences. Still, yellow spots mark sites like Neel Park and Sam Vaughn School. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

(Editor's note: Due to a flurry of citizen complaints about watering practices at city parks and Ceres school facilities, not aligning with new watering restrictions, this piece was written by City Manager Toby Wells and Ceres Unified School District Supt. Scott Siegel).

As the two largest public entities operating in Ceres, we want to jointly address how we are working together to meet the requirements of the emergency drought regulations while protecting valuable public assets.

By executive order, the state of California is requiring urban water agencies to reduce potable (drinkable) urban water usage by 25 percent statewide. The city of Ceres and the Ceres Unified School District are committed to work together to make this reduction a reality in our own water use.

Several years ago, the city began serious conservation efforts by installing water meters citywide and a number of other water conservation programs. In addition, the city and CUSD have worked together to ensure non-potable (non-drinkable quality) water to be used on most of the school district's lawn areas and most city parks. CUSD and the city actually started cutting back on watering last summer, resulting in a significant reduction from the 2013 baseline year. We are now working to meet the remainder of the requirement, and believe that with our collective efforts, and the continued diligent efforts of our residents, we will meet the required reduction.

As we strive to reduce our grounds and parks watering - the largest component of our water use - it is worth noting that there are several significant differences between residential watering and park/school fields watering. The first involves size. Given the acreages involved and watering time per station, it is not possible to complete the watering cycle for a school's playfields or for a park in the time a residential property can complete a watering cycle. (Imagine trying to water dozens of residential lawns, one sprinkler station at a time.) As a result, the city and the school district are working to reduce water consumption, but cannot do so within the same time constraints that a residence is able to do so. This is why you will see some parks and playfields watered outside of the timeframes prescribed for residences.

Another important factor is that most schools and parks are not on the potable water system for landscape irrigation that residences are on. In fact, only four schools - Caswell, Ceres High School, Carroll Fowler and Walter White - and two of the city's 15 parks are on city water for irrigation. The school district's other 17 sites and city's 13 parks are on non-potable wells that are exempt from watering restrictions. However, in keeping with the serious nature of the drought, and the importance of groundwater, the school district is targeting the same water savings at all schools, regardless of water source.

Finally, our parks and our school playfields are valuable public resources. During this summer, we will be trying to walk a fine line between merely stressing the fields and allowing grass to die. Killing the fields would result in large expenditures of public dollars for replacement and would deprive our community of a valuable quality-of-life asset.

We do understand the sensitivities involved when everyone is being asked to sacrifice during this time of drought. Rest assured, that the city and CUSD are working together to achieve the required savings and preserve our parks and school playfields.