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Modesto cuts watering days, increases fines to deal with drought

Modesto could restrict outdoor watering to one day a week after missing its state mandate for saving water.
Modesto could restrict outdoor watering to one day a week after missing its state mandate for saving water. Modesto Bee file

Modesto homeowners soon will be able to water their lawns just two days a week, and those caught violating this and other drought restrictions face fines of as much as $500.

The City Council on Tuesday night unanimously approved going to stage 2 of Modesto’s drought contingency plan, effective Friday. Stage 2 reduces the days that homes, apartments, businesses and other users can water outdoors from three to two. It also reduces the hours in which watering is allowed.

More water restrictions may be in store for water users in the coming months if state regulators require Modesto and other cities across California to take on steeper reductions as the state weathers a fourth year of drought.

Modesto’s stage 2 restrictions:

▪ Allow customers with odd-numbered addresses to water Wednesdays and Sundays, and allow those with even-numbered addresses to water Tuesdays and Saturdays. No outdoor watering is allowed on Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays.

▪ Prohibit outdoor watering from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. (Stage 1 restrictions banned outdoor watering from noon to 7 p.m.)

▪ Increase the fines for those violating the restrictions. The stage 1 drought contingency fines were $50 for a second violation, $200 for a third and $250 for each subsequent violation. (Modesto issues a warning for the first violation.) The stage 2 fines are $150 for a second violation, $250 for a third and $500 for each subsequent violation.

Modesto soon will ramp up its enforcement of the watering restrictions by sending crews out to patrol in the early morning and at night. They will be looking for such problems as people watering on the wrong day, malfunctioning sprinklers and overwatering.

The restrictions apply to all of Modesto’s water customers, including those in surrounding communities – such as Salida – that are part of the city’s water system.

The State Water Resources Control Board is expected to vote May 5-6 on a plan to reduce urban water use statewide by 25 percent, though individual cities face differing reductions based on their residential water consumption. The reduction applies to potable – or drinkable – water and is based on 2013 use.

The board issued a revision to its plan Tuesday, but not much changed. It means Modesto and Oakdale face reducing water use by 36 percent; Riverbank and Turlock, 32 percent; and Ceres and Patterson, 28 percent.

Modesto Utilities Director Larry Parlin said Modesto may have to go to stage 3 of its drought contingency plan to comply with the proposed 36 percent mandate. He has said he will have a better idea after reviewing how much water the city saves in May and June.

Stage 3 bans all outdoor watering except for hand watering of trees, bushes and plants. Drip irrigation systems are allowed.

Parlin told council members the city could modify the stage 3 restrictions.

He said residential users – such as homes and apartments – consume 70 percent to 75 percent of Modesto’s water. Commercial, industrial and institutional users consume 15 percent to 20 percent, and 5 percent to 10 percent of the city’s water is lost to leaks. Parlin said that loss is an acceptable amount based on industry standards for water suppliers.

Parlin said the state’s focus is on reducing outdoor watering, which he said accounts for about half of Modesto’s water consumption.

Council members heard from one business owner who operates a commercial painting business. He said the city issued him a warning for pressure washing a building before painting it. The owner feared the restrictions would force him out of business.

Council members said that is not the intent and added that they do not want businesses hurt by the water restrictions. The business owner was advised to meet with Parlin to work out a solution.

Parlin told council members that city officials also are looking at how Modesto can cut its municipal water use by such measures as reducing watering at city facilities. “There may be some browning of city facilities to meet these goals,” he said.

He said Modesto also is looking at developing a cash-for-grass program in which it would pay residents to replace their lawns with decorative rocks, drought-tolerant plants and other landscaping that uses little or no water. The program would cover part of the cost of converting a lawn.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or (209) 578-2316.

WHOM TO CALL

▪ Residents can report water wasters at (209) 342-2246.

▪ Modesto is conducting water audits at no cost for households. Water conservation specialist Juan Tejeda will show residents how to read their meters to determine how much water they are using and how they can check for leaks. He also will check their sprinkler timers to make sure they are watering at the right time and not overwatering. Call him at (209) 342-2262 to schedule an appointment.

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