June 22, 2014

Bee Investigator: Why are Turlock parks’ sprinklers going off in afternoon?

A Turlock resident wants to know why the city was watering its parks in the afternoon, during a time frame when it forbids residents to water their own yards.

Don’t you just hate it when people in authority tell you not to do something and then go and do it themselves?

Case in point: We’ve long been told not to use cellphones while driving. One day, I had just picked my car up from the mechanic when it got stuck in accelerate and wouldn’t brake. Pretty scary when you’re coming up to cars stopped for a red light. I quickly turned off the engine and pulled to the side of the road, but there wasn’t any shoulder and I ended up in a well-used right-turn lane.

I put on my hazard lights and called my mechanic, who promised to be there in a few minutes. Meanwhile, a couple of good ol’ boys in a pickup saw my plight and offered to help. I told them I was waiting for help and they went on. Then I saw a police car in my rear-view mirror. I was sure he was going to pull behind me or next to me to find out what was wrong. Imagine my surprise when he didn’t even look my way. He had to go around me, stop at a red light, then turn right, but the whole time he was punching keys on his cellphone and reading whatever was on its screen!

Yes, I know law enforcement is exempt from the “no cellphone” rule, as officers often must keep in contact with their dispatchers and others. But I’ll bet this guy was on personal business, and even if he wasn’t, he should have stopped to find out why a car was blocking access to a turn lane. Sheesh!

So I understood what Carolyn Morgan of Turlock was thinking when she wrote to me with her question.

“In the city of Turlock, there is a rule that odd number addresses water on certain days, even number addresses on the other days and neither water on Mondays. Also, no one is supposed to water between noon and 7 p.m.,” she said.

“But recently, on a Monday a little after noon, I noticed that Summerfaire Park was being watered. A couple of days later, Donnelly Park was being watered about 1 p.m., and the same section was still being watered when I drove back about 25 minutes later.

“Doesn’t the city have to follow the watering schedule, too?”

Great question.

Here’s how Michael Cooke, Turlock’s director of municipal services, explained it:

“The city’s water conservation ordinance has a provision that states: ‘Large commercial landscapes and city parks shall have individual watering schedules approved by the Utilities Department.’ So you will see city parks and other large institutions with a watering schedule that may appear inconsistent with the schedule for residential users.”

(Heh, heh, heh. I just had to chuckle when I read the word “appear.”)

“This provision allows city parks to be watered on Mondays, when overall demand is somewhat lower (industrial water use is high on Mondays, but residential use is low); in this manner, the watering of large parks has less of an impact on water pressure and well operations. For some of our bigger parks, which can take a long time to irrigate, we water a portion on one day and the remainder on the following day. Further, as staffing is limited on weekends, it allows watering on days when more staff are able to attend to irrigation problems. Finally, we try not to (water) on weekends; some groups set up very early and the wet grass could be a problem.”

In other words, you may have to water your yard on weekends, but the city staffers are mostly off then, so if there’s a problem, such as a busted pipe, it could cause bigger problems. So Mondays are a better day. And, yes, many groups do use the parks on weekends, and it’s so nice not to have to slog through wet grass.

Let’s continue:

“As for watering times,” Cooke said, “right now our sprinkler timers are generally set to run between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. (sometimes as late as 8 a.m. for a larger park). If sprinklers are running in the afternoon, we may be doing maintenance, repairs or testing, or watering in a new planting. Alternatively, a sprinkler controller may be malfunctioning. Unfortunately, these malfunctions can go undetected by our staff depending on location and time of day.

“In allowing these individual schedules, we try to ensure that water is still used as efficiently as possible to meet the water conservation goals of the ordinance.”

So, although we don’t know why those two parks were being irrigated on those two dates at a time that wouldn’t fit the city’s posted conservation schedule, it “appears” the parks’ sprinklers weren’t supposed to be on.

If you see parks being watered during the afternoon, what can you do?

“We always encourage residents to call in if they see something that does not look correct,” Cooke said.

The number to report odd watering times in parks is (209) 668-5594.

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