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Q: Mountain towns like Truckee don’t have to conserve water because we get it first. Right? – Scott Berelson, Truckee

A: As with all things water-related, it depends where you live and where your water comes from. A “we get it first” presumption does not necessarily apply.

In the case of Truckee, you are correct that no conservation orders are in place. Truckee gets its water from a relatively large groundwater aquifer in the Martis Valley, which is not experiencing shortages.

However, the Truckee Donner Public Utility District, which delivers that water to Truckee residents, is still encouraging customers to conserve through a “Watch your Water” campaign, said spokesman Steven Poncelet.

Q: Are we allowed to fill above-ground pools? I bought mine at the end of last year. It’s 18 feet in diameter by 4 feet deep. – S. Smith, Citrus Heights

A: Your pool is OK to fill under current water restrictions for your area. But if you’re going to fill it for the summer, do it now, because restrictions could get tougher.

“Most agencies are not restricting pool-filling right now,” said Amy Talbot of the Regional Water Authority, the umbrella agency that represents water providers in Sacramento, El Dorado and Placer counties. “They do in later stages (of drought restrictions).”

The same drought rules apply to above-ground and in-ground pools.

Q: With Folsom Lake losing water, what are the implications for electricity production? How can California deal with the lost energy source? – David Davidson, Sacramento

A: Hydroelectric energy production will definitely take a hit this year throughout California, not just at Folsom Dam.

On March 12, the California Independent System Operator, which manages electricity distribution throughout the state, reported to its board: “Watersheds supplying hydroelectric facilities generally forecast well less than half of the energy normally available during average water years.”

March ended up being relatively wet, so that grim forecast probably improved somewhat. The ISO likely will provide an update to its board at its next meeting April 30. But it’s clear that it will be a below-average year for hydroelectric generation. The ramifications will vary depending on who your utility provider is.

Q: I left the lid open during our recent rain and collected 8 inches of water in our green-waste container! I’ve also added water from our shower with a 5-gallon bucket as we’ve been collecting it since last summer; it takes 3 gallons before it gets hot. I keep the lid on the 90-gallon green-waste container. Do you see any problems with doing this? The green-waste material is minimum this time of year, and we water our landscaped plants and potted plants with this water. – Darrell Kaff, Roseville

A: Congratulations on your water collection efforts! The biggest issue right now is keeping mosquitoes out of your saved water.

Just closing the lid is not enough (although it’s important). Even with a lid, those critters still can get inside to breed. You should take some additional precautions such as placing a fine-mesh screen over the water in the container or adding a mosquito larvicide that won’t harm you or your plants.

Mosquitoes lay and hatch their eggs in standing water. Recent warm weather has pushed mosquito mamas into overdrive, according to the Sacramento-Yolo Mosquito and Vector Control District. Your water container could be the home of thousands of mosquito larvae. With West Nile Virus still a threat, this becomes more than a nuisance; it’s a health and safety issue.

Q: What are the authorities asking and/or requiring farmers and agricultural interests to do immediately to reduce their water use, and by how much? Will there be significant penalties for non-compliance? – Jim Purvis, Gold River

A: Farms represent a very different regulatory environment than urban areas. In short, farms are not officially required to do anything to conserve water.

“Farmers, as far as required conservation, I’m not aware of anything in particular,” said Mike Henry, assistant executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition.

When former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a major water conservation bill in 2009, it required urban areas to reduce water use 20 percent by 2020 or risk losing access to state grants for water projects. No similar requirement was imposed on farms or irrigation districts. This year, additional drought-specific conservation orders have been imposed on urban residents, but not farmers.

Most times when I use an automatic-flush toilet in a commercial building, it flushes two to three times. Do automatic-flush toilets waste or save water? – Ed Zajac, Orangevale

Your experience is common, and it seems these devices do not save water. According to several studies, they may actually use significantly more than old-school manual valves.

John Koeller, a Yorba Linda-based engineer and water-efficiency expert, said the primary benefit of automatic- or sensor-flush plumbing fixtures is improved hygiene, not water savings. Koeller is a partner in an organization called MaP Testing, which for years has conducted independent testing of various plumbing fixtures.

In 2010, Koeller and a colleague studied sensor-flush toilets in the real setting of a Florida office building. After months of monitoring, they found that sensor-flush toilets actually increased water consumption by 45 percent compared to manual-flush toilets. The cause was so-called “phantom flushing,” or multiple false flushes produced by over-active motion sensors on the toilets.

Q: As a gardener of fruits and vegetables, I want to know how I can get the most bang for my bucket of water. Which of the commonly grown spring/summer plants – such as tomatoes, zucchini, beans – yields the most produce per volume of water? If you had limited water to use on a garden of edibles, what would you select to grow this summer of drought? – Melanie Loo, Sacramento

A: Grow beans. They have built-in drought resistance.

In fact, several summer favorites do pretty well with restricted water. Beans native to the Southwest or other areas with hot summers and little rain can do well this summer in Sacramento. Tepary beans, for example, thrive in the Arizona desert.

Black-eyed peas need hot temperatures to produce good crops and like less water, not more. Lima beans can get by on limited water, too. Snap beans and pole beans need only short growing seasons and will set crops with little water.

Q: Our roots are firmly planted in old East Sacramento, where many new trees have been planted when mature, sickly Modesto ash trees were lost. Can our younger trees survive the summer months with once-weekly deep-root watering? And should an older, somewhat sickly tree providing shade be removed to conserve water? – Heidi Boyd, Sacramento

A: Once-weekly deep watering will be important to those trees’ health. And yes, they will survive, even thrive with that approach.

“Deep” watering is key, says Sacramento certified arborist Matt Morgan of Davey Tree Expert Co.

“The top 12 inches of soil is where the roots are,” Morgan said. “Most people run their sprinklers for 7, 8 minutes; that only reaches the top two inches of soil. You need the water to go deeper.”

Q: Most times when I use an automatic-flush toilet in a commercial building, it flushes two to three times. Do automatic-flush toilets waste or save water? – Ed Zajac, Orangevale

A: Your experience is common and it seems these devices do not save water, according to several studies, and may actually use significantly more than old-school manual valves.

John Koeller, a Yorba Linda-based engineer and water efficiency expert, said the primary benefit of automatic- or sensor-flush plumbing fixtures is improved hygiene, not water savings. Koeller is a partner in an organization called MaP Testing, which for years has conducted independent testing of various plumbing fixtures.

In 2010, Koeller and a colleague studied sensor-flush toilets in the real setting of a Florida office building. After months of monitoring, they found that sensor-flush toilets actually increased water consumption by 45 percent compared to manual-flush toilets. The cause was so-called “phantom flushing,” or multiple false flushes produced by over-active motion sensors on the toilets.

Water Question of the Day Inside the Bee

Q: Summer recreation is a big deal in my family – boating, specifically. How far will we need to go this summer to find a suitable body of water? – Thomas Sherer, Roseville, CA

A: Look no further than Folsom Lake.

Lake levels have risen dramatically during the last two months, thanks to several wet storms. As of April 3, the lake contained 454,000 acre-feet of water, roughly triple the amount it contained in late January.

While some reservoirs in the state remain depleted, Folsom Lake levels are now at more than 70 percent of normal for the date. The Sierra Nevada snowpack remains well below average, but as it melts, the lake will continue to rise, making for good boating. Just don’t put off the fun: Lake levels could be low again by Labor Day, based on historical trends.

Q: We have large old sycamore trees lining our street. I have been told these trees do not have “tap roots” and depend on getting large amounts of water from roots in the top few feet of soil. My tree’s roots spread out under my entire front lawn. I am guessing these kinds of trees used to grow near rivers because they got extra water from intermittent flooding, in addition to the annual rainfall. Don’t these trees depend on significant amounts of supplemental landscape irrigation, particularly during droughts, to stay alive?

If people replace their lawns with cement, gravel and semi-desert plants to reduce the need for landscape irrigation, do they also risk killing the urban forest that Sacramento depends on to cool our homes and streets, clean our air, prevent urban “heat islands,” etc.?

It makes obvious sense to irrigate at night, when less water is lost to evaporation, and to irrigate carefully, so water is not wasted running into streets and storm drains. But how much can we safely reduce watering in yards where large trees grow?

– Robert Meagher, Sacramento

Q: I read a comment from a neighbor on nextdoor.com that collection of rainfall in barrels is illegal in the City of Sacramento. Is that true? If so, why? – Raquel Beckett, Sacramento

A: That is a common misconception. Under current city code, rain collection by homeowners and residential rain barrels are legal in the City of Sacramento, according to Jessica Hess of the city’s Department of Utilities.

The issue is if that rain collection becomes a “nuisance,” attracting mosquitoes. If the barrel is kept bug-free via fine-mesh screens or other mosquito blockers, it’s OK.

You can learn more about rain barrels and rain collection at the upcoming Elk Grove Greener Gardens DIY Expo on April 26. The free event will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Miwok Park on Village Tree Drive in Elk Grove. For details, click here. In addition to the expo, the event features a free self-guided tour of homes with water-wise landscaping.

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