City of Los Banos working to put watering rules into effect

A large swath of grass sits yellow and dead at the California State Capitol Building last weekend (Aug. 9, 2014), part of the state's effort to cut back on water usage.
A large swath of grass sits yellow and dead at the California State Capitol Building last weekend (Aug. 9, 2014), part of the state's effort to cut back on water usage. dwitte@losbanosenterprise.com

With the state’s mandate that all cities cut water usage by 20 percent in the third year of state-wide drought, the city of Los Banos passed a resolution last week to restrict watering of lawns to twice a week instead of the former three-times-a-week schedule.

And while the resolution went into effect immediately, Mark Fachin, the city’s public works director, said the city won’t be giving warnings for watering on the wrong day for about a month, giving people time to get an announcement with their next bill and adjust.

The new amendment allows watering for even numbered addresses on Sundays and Wednesdays and odd-numbered addresses on Tuesdays and Saturdays between 7 p.m. and 11 a.m. No irrigation will be allowed on Mondays, Thursdays or Fridays.

“This is a year-round schedule,” Fachin said. “This is the schedule we’ll stay with until we see something different. If we have a good winter, we could go back to a three-day schedule.”

And while there will be warnings and fines for watering on the wrong day, the big thing the city will be looking for is leaks and other water wastage more than anything. The city will rely on its own workers and on community tips to stop water waste.

“We’re looking more at when sprinklers leak, when it flows down the curb line and wastes a significant amount of water,” Fachin said. “We will give administrative fines after a couple of warnings.”

Ronny Navarro of Ronny’s Landscaping, which works on residential, commercial and municipal properties around the city, said he doesn’t expect the new restrictions to affect how he operates very much.

“It’s almost the end of summer. We’re on the way out already,” Navarro said. “So a lot the plants and lawns already almost have the water they need for summer. It’s affecting them, but it’s not that crucial at this stage. Next year might be a different story.”

The city itself has already taken steps to conserve water, cutting back on its watering at parks and public buildings. The state has taken similar measures, with large swaths of grass on the Capitol Mall lying yellow (though the state is making sure to water the historic trees that live on the grounds).

“Because of the amount of valves we have and the amount of green space, we can’t go on an odd/even schedule,” Fachin said. “We’re down to four days a week, and we don’t water at all between 11 and 7, and we’ve got our times down. We’re looking at probably about 30 percent savings over the last three weeks.

“Some of our parks have 50 or 60 valves, so that’s why we can’t go odd/even. That’s why we water on off days sometimes, but we have cut back on the watering quite a bit.”

Fachin added that Los Banos Unified School District has also significantly cut back on its watering.

Fachin said that part of what makes it hard for Los Banos is that the city has already done a significant amount of water savings over the last few years. But the state’s 20 percent demand was a blanket mandate for all cities.

“We are at seven percent over the last two months. That’s comparing 2013 numbers to now,” he said. “We’re comparing to great conservation we’ve already done in the past. We had a goal set by our management for 2020, and we’ve done a great job hitting our goals. The main reason the state does that is this has to be done immediately, so they don’t have the leeway to say, well, we’ll look at your numbers for the last five years.”

But even with the new restrictions, Fachin stressed that it is still possible to keep a healthy lawn.

“There are ways to do it. A lot of people don’t realize buying fertilizer and keeping on a schedule will keep it pretty green. If the ground is mushy, it’s definitely over-watered,” he said. “Five to seven minutes per cycle is really all you need over a couple of times. Two six-minute cycles is definitely better than one 15-minute cycle.”

Ronny Navarro of Ronny’s Landscaping agrees, and took that even a step further, saying a few four-minute cycles should be all that’s needed, especially with a lot of newer houses built with a sloping front yard. That’s what he learned taking his team to water conservation classes at universities around the state.

“Runoff I think is the worst waste of water. That’s why the 4-minute period is important,” Navarro said. “People do 20 minutes, 25 minutes, and a lot of that water goes into the street.”

He added that mulch in garden areas can also help retain water, in addition to nutrients.

“It’s not hard, you’ve just got to understand your soil, your sprinklers and your slopes,” Navarro said. “If you understand those three things, you can still keep a decent landscape.”

For those that don’t know how to set a sprinkler timer, the public works department will send a worker to set the timer for residents. The number to do so is (209) 827-7056.