State officials: Don’t water your lawn

Starting Sunday, Sacramento city residents can start watering their lawns twice a week. But city and state water officials are urging them not to turn on the sprinklers at all.

Recent rains have provided plenty of moisture to keep grass happy for several weeks, according to state water experts. Yet it hasn’t rained nearly enough to end the drought, meaning every drop saved now will mean there’s more water available later, when the rainy season ends.

“We need to start preparing for a potentially dry 2015 as well, so that means everybody needs to do their part,” said Mark Cowin, director of the California Department of Water Resources. “The easiest way you can do that is by taking advantage of recent storms by turning off your sprinklers.”

Currently, city of Sacramento residents and business owners are allowed to water landscaping only one day a week, and only on weekends. But when the switch to daylight saving time occurs at 2 a.m. Sunday, the city’s landscape watering rules also change. Starting Sunday, residents can add one weekday: odd-numbered addresses may water Tuesdays and Saturdays; even numbers on Wednesdays and Sundays. Watering on any other day is a violation subject to fines.

That marks a change from previous rules, which allowed watering three days a week after the start of daylight saving time. The City Council made the switch when it adopted a “Stage 2” water shortage plan on Jan. 14, which also requires customers to reduce water consumption by 20 percent to 30 percent.

The city has made some progress toward that goal, but still has a ways to go. The City Council was told Tuesday that overall water consumption was down 12 percent citywide in February.

There’s no need to start watering now, water experts said.

To illustrate this, Chuck Ingels, a horticulture adviser for UC Cooperative Extension, demonstrated a simple test. During a media event at a Curtis Park home Thursday, Ingels plunged a familiar flat-bladed screwdriver straight down into the front lawn. The screwdriver sank in smoothly to the handle, indicating the lawn has plenty of moisture, he said. If it doesn’t sink in all the way or has to be forced in with a lot of pressure, the lawn may need water.

“A single lawn sprinkler can use as much water as taking a shower,” Ingels said. “Many people don’t even know where their (sprinkler) controller is. They are often hidden behind boxes or bicycles in the garage.”

He next used a slightly more sophisticated tool to take a core sample of the soil under the lawn. It showed the soil was muddy down to at least 12 inches below the grass.

Shutting off sprinklers is as simple as turning a knob. Most irrigation controllers have a knob or switch with a clearly labeled “off” position. Turning sprinklers back on merely requires moving the knob back to the “run” or “auto” setting.

Operational manuals for various sprinkler controllers can be found online, along with lots of other water-use tips, at: www.saveourh2o.org/sprinklers101.

To determine seasonal watering rules for individual areas, residents can consult with the Sacramento Regional Water Authority, which offers a website with water-saving information and a map to help residents find their water provider and the relevant rules: www.bewatersmart.info/.

The city of Sacramento is also training residents to become volunteer “water conservation ambassadors” who will help teach neighbors to be more water efficient. A training class for the program is set for March 15 at 10 a.m. For more information, call (916) 808-5605.

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