The drought may be over, but Sacramento residents still have to limit their watering for years to come.
The Sacramento City Council voted Tuesday to make permanent twice-a-week sprinkler restrictions despite Gov. Jerry Brown lifting a drought state of emergency for California after record-setting winter rainfall. The motion passed 6-3, with councilmembers Angelique Ashby, Allen Warren and Larry Carr voting no.
Sacramento’s twice weekly restrictions from March to November appear to be the most stringent in the region. Most other cities in the area have relaxed their drought-era requirements. Folsom, for instance, allows residents to water as many days a week as they want within certain time windows. The Elk Grove Water District has removed restrictions on watering.
Councilman Jeff Harris, who backed the plan, said the new rules were part of a long-term strategy to make conservation in the capital city “a way of life.” He asked that staff include language to keep fines static and that the changes not go into effect until 2018.
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The last-minute amendment actually gives Sacramento residents one last watering reprieve. Until Nov. 1, they have a short window in which they can water three days a week – Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays for odd-numbered addresses and Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays for even-numbered addresses.
Freestyle winter watering rules then apply until residents must return to twice weekly watering next March.
When Brown declared the end of the drought earlier this year, five state agencies unveiled a plan to reduce the state’s use of water over time. Called “Making Water Conservation a California Way of Life,” the plan will require all 410 urban water agencies to meet new targets within parameters set by the state.
David Brady, who spoke in opposition to the restrictions, said Sacramento should hold off until the state passes legislation. He pointed out that the new rules would make Sacramento more restrictive than even Davis, a liberal stronghold that allows three days of watering per week.
“I think we can all agree that there will be another drought,” Brady said. “But I don’t think the state will give Sacramento special treatment because we stuck it to our residents when we didn’t have to.”
Many residents spoke in favor of the restrictions Tuesday night, but tree activists asked the council to remind people to be mindful of tree health. Torin Dunnavant, director of education and engagement with the Sacramento Tree Foundation, said trees are hurt when people decide not to water at all.
“Trees, hopefully, are not very reliant on getting watered by people, but when we’re having really dry summers, they definitely utilize supplemental watering,” he said. “It’s the difference between a tree thriving or a tree barely surviving, or even dying.”
Across the state, at least a dozen other communities besides Sacramento have watering restrictions in place.
An informal survey by the Association of California Water Agencies showed Los Angeles still limits lawn watering to three days a week, as do Fresno, Modesto and Bakersfield. Stockton and the Sonoma County Water Agency have a two-day-a-week limit. Turlock allows two days of watering per week in summer and one in winter.
In addition, reports filed with the State Water Resources Control Board show outdoor watering restrictions remain in cities such as Long Beach, Milpitas, Delano and Los Banos.
“I was surprised to find that many (restrictions) are still in place,” said Jennifer Persike, ACWA’s deputy executive director for external affairs.
She said Brown’s “way of life” order accompanying the end of the drought is influencing cities to promote conservation. The governor directed state agencies to develop a series of long-term conservation mandates, although most won’t take effect for several years.
In addition, she said many Californians are simply learning to make do with less water.
“Folks are kind of embracing the conservation habit,” she said.
John Woodling, director of the Regional Water Authority, said, in his official capacity, he’s happy to see Sacramento’s council be progressive on water issues. As a resident, he said he’s conditionally supportive.
“I think in addition to the ordinance and the restrictions, the council does need to commit to both the messaging and the support of the utilities staff for” education, supporting tree health and continuing to offer incentives to use less water, he said.
Under the new guidelines, sprinkler system watering is only allowed two days a week from March to November. That has been the case since the last drought began because the City Council imposed emergency rules under a Stage 2 water shortage.
Department of Utilities Director Bill Busath said the agency will move away from enforcement and towards education and assistance. He said the department intends to run an education campaign for residents.
The watering cutbacks don’t apply to people who water their lawns with hand-held hoses or to households that have so-called “smart controllers” that measure the moisture of the soil. Drip irrigation systems that water trees, gardens and shrubs will also be exempt.
Harris said the city offers rebates of up to $400 for buying a smart-controller.
The rules will be in effect from March through October, but are suspended during heat waves when the temperature is more than 100 degrees for two or more consecutive days. Residents can water whenever they want on those days, said Department of Utilities spokeswoman Ellen Martin. Both the time and day restrictions are lifted.
Car washing also got a break. Residents can now wash their vehicles any day of the week, instead of just on watering days. But they can’t let the hose run – it needs to have a shut-off nozzle.