Modesto residents may be able to water their lawns three times a week for the first time in a couple of years.
Utilities Director Larry Parlin said he expects to bring a proposal to the City Council on May 23 to ease the restrictions Modesto put in place because of the drought. It includes allowing outdoor watering three times a week, increasing the number of hours for outdoor watering, and letting people hand water trees and shrubs at any time. The new watering rules would be effective June 1 through Sept. 30.
Modesto has limited outdoor watering to once or twice a week depending upon the time of year since May 2015. Watering was allowed three times a week before that.
The city is considering this after winter storms drenched the Valley and covered the Sierra Nevada in snow. Gov. Jerry Brown on April 7 declared an end to the historic drought, which was California’s driest four-year period on record. But Brown did not lift the drought emergency in Tuolumne, Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties.
The State Water Resources Control Board on Wednesday announced that it had lifted the remaining mandatory conservation standards for urban water suppliers. But the suppliers – including Modesto and other neighboring cities – will have to continue to report how much water they use each month. And the state’s ban on wasting water – such as using a hose to clean a sidewalk or watering a lawn so much that water runs into the gutter – remains in place.
Modesto gets its drinking water from wells and Tuolumne River water treated by the Modesto Irrigation District. Parlin said MID is providing Modesto its full annual allotment of river water for the first time since 2012. MID had reduced its water supplies to Modesto and its agricultural customers by as much 62 percent during the drought. MID’s water year is May through April.
Parlin said Modesto’s roughly 500 water customers in Grayson, Turlock and Walnut Manor in Ceres would remain on two-day-a-week watering because they rely on wells.
He said while Modesto is in good shape now, that does not mean the city will not tighten restrictions again. He said the challenges Modesto faces include more drought and state and federal regulations. California is working on new rules and regulations to promote water conservation. That effort includes establishing long-term urban water use efficiency standards by 2021.
Parlin said if council members approve three-day-a-week watering he expects to report back to them in the fall on its effect on the water system’s finances. The council last year approved steep water rate increases over five years to make up for water revenue declining because of water customers cutting back because of the drought. But the annual increases are not automatic and can be less than what the council approved last year.
While Modesto is looking at easing its water rules, neighboring Ceres and Turlock are not. The two cities rely on wells for their drinking water.
“At this time, the city is not considering going back to allowing three days versus the two allowed today,” Ceres City Manager Toby Wells said in an email. .... “(A)lthough the governor declared the drought to be over, that may be true from a surface water perspective, however, the impact on the groundwater will not recover for many years.”
Turlock Municipal Services Director Michael Cooke said in an email that “despite a wet winter and full reservoirs,” his city’s “groundwater supply is showing no signs of recovery and remains at an all-time low.”
Cooke said Turlock also has taken multiple wells out of service because of water contamination. He said Turlock is trying to rehabilitate these wells and hopes to put two to four back in service this year, which would improve Turlock’s water supply. He expects officials will provide the City Council with an update on Turlock’s water resources in June and seek its direction on the outdoor watering schedule.
Turlock and Ceres are working on a project that would supply them with drinking water from the Tuolumne River. The environmental studies for the project will be released this summer.
Kevin Valine: 209-578-2316