Drought Q&A: Which cities don’t meter their water customers?

What are the statistics on unmetered water in California? When will those locations be required to be metered? – Susan Robinson, Arnold

The largest collection of unmetered homes in the state is right here in the Sacramento region.

The city of Sacramento has the most unmetered water connections – about 65,000 – in California, according to a recent analysis of state data by the San Jose Mercury News. The Sacramento Suburban Water District, Sacramento County Water Agency and city of Galt also were among the 10 agencies with the most unmetered connections.

The state requires water suppliers to meter all customers by the end of 2024. Local water agencies are working to meet that goal.

Several water agencies along the coast have required meters for more than 50 years.

– Phillip Reese

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

That is a common misconception. Under current city code, rain collection and residential rain barrels are legal, 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 bugfree 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. In addition to the expo, the event features a free self-guided tour of homes with water-wise landscaping.

Roseville will host a similar Greener Gardens event on May 17 at the Roseville Utility Exploration Center.

– Debbie Arrington

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. How much can we safely reduce watering in yards where large trees grow? – Robert Meagher, Sacramento

Sycamores are one example of trees that need a helping hand during drought. More than 7 million trees are part of the Sacramento region’s urban forest, and very few grew totally on their own. Historically, the Sacramento region had few native trees except for valley oaks and trees that grew along waterways.

Lawn trees face a combination of challenges. Fed a steady stream of sprinkler water, they’ve grown accustomed to shallow irrigation. They have no need to stretch their roots down or out in search of moisture. But even in abundance, they may not be getting all the water they need.

According to EcoLandscape executive director Cheryl Buckwalter, trees need individual watering separate from the lawn. This encourages deep, healthy roots.

“They’re always competing with lawns for water,” Buckwalter said. “They’re not getting deep watering from sprinklers. Instead, water them slowly with a hose. Let it soak in. Then, take a (soil) probe and see how far the water reaches.”

Ideally, that water should reach down a foot or more. Many of the roots are at about 18 inches deep. Move the hose around, including away from the trunk. The roots extend about one foot beyond the dripline, the farthest reach of the tree’s foliage.

Sycamores are tougher than a lot of lawn trees. Their roots run 4 to 5 feet deep. While native to river banks, they can get by on twice-monthly deep irrigation. They learned to cope when rivers ran low. So even if the lawn is brown, the sycamores should survive – if they get a little individual attention.

Coastal redwoods and birches, both common in Sacramento, are particularly vulnerable to drought stress. They prefer weekly deep irrigation.

Mulching around trees also helps them retain that precious moisture. Spread mulch (preferably bark, wood chips or chopped leaves) 4 to 6 inches thick in a 4-foot circle around the tree. Leave 6 inches between the mulch and trunk to avoid crown rot.

For more on how to help trees during drought, check tips from the Sacramento Tree Foundation at www.sactree.com/drought.

– Debbie Arrington

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