As the Valley soaks up plentiful winter rains and a deep snowpack awaits in the Sierra, Fresno is assessing whether to modify its drought-era rules to let customers turn on their yard sprinklers more often.
One wet season doesn’t do much to ease the strain on an underground water table that has been overdrawn for years. But at the end of this month, Fresno will change its water-use restrictions that limit customers to outdoor watering on only one day a week to something else – something yet undecided.
In Clovis, where some residents are separated from their Fresno neighbors by a city limit that runs down the middle of a street, the winter/spring change in rules happened on April 1, going from one-day-a-week watering to three days. That’s prompting questions from some about why people on the east side of the street can water more often than folks living on the west side of the street.
Of course, watering rules aren’t the only regulations that may differ from one city to another in the Valley. On the books, Fresno’s winter water rules kick in one month later, and end one month later, than they do in Clovis. Fresno’s public utilities website indicates that the spring-summer irrigation schedule to start on May 1 with two-days-a-week watering.
Conservation has always been an important part of our strategy; that’s not going to change.
Mark Standriff, city of Fresno spokesman
In both Fresno and Clovis, twice-a-week watering was the result of state-mandated water conservation goals before those rules were eased last year if cities could show they had an ample supply. “When we did two days a week, that’s when we were required to reduce water use by 36 percent,” said Lisa Koehn, assistant public utilities director for the city of Clovis. “We’re under no mandated reduction percentage right now.”
Neither is Fresno, for that matter. Under the mandatory reductions, Fresno was required to cut its water use by 28 percent compared to its 2013 consumption. But city leaders were waiting to see whether Gov. Jerry Brown would declare an end to the California drought. On Friday, Brown issued an executive order terminating a drought state of emergency – except in Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Tuolumne counties.
Fresno’s public utilities director, Thomas Esqueda, will outline a course of action next week to the Fresno City Council. But Mark Standriff, a city spokesman, said the city is still weighing its options.
“Conservation has always been an important part of our strategy; that’s not going to change,” Standriff said. “Fresno was one of the first communities, if not the first community, in the state to go to a watering schedule, three days a week, back in about 1994.” That was scaled back to two days a week in the summer, and one day a week in the winter, under state requirements in 2015 and 2016.
“The question is, do we jump back into what we’ve been doing in the last couple of years” under the state’s more stringent requirements, Standriff added. “The drought being ‘over’ doesn’t mean the groundwater isn’t still drastically overdrafted.”
In the Fresno area, the average depth to groundwater in sample wells increased by more than 35 feet in less than 20 years, from about 67 feet below the surface in 1996 to 103 feet in 2014 – a rate of nearly 1.9 feet deeper each year.
Now, groundwater management is one of the biggest priorities in the Valley, thanks to California’s Sustainable Groundwater Management Act that requires cities and counties to take steps to recharge the underground aquifers from which they have historically pumped water for municipal, agricultural and industrial needs.
Both Fresno and Clovis are counting on using their allocations of surface water from lakes in the Sierra to help them reduce their reliance on pumped groundwater. Within the past couple of years, Clovis has expanded its surface water treatment plant to produce up to 22.5 million gallons of water daily – enough to meet about one-third to one-half of the city’s demand, depending on the time of year, Koehn said.
Fresno has a surface water treatment plant in northeast Fresno that produces about 24 million gallons per day. In February, the city’s average daily consumption was 59.1 million gallons – meaning that the deficit to be pumped from underground was about 35 million gallons. The city is building another plant in southeast Fresno that is expected to provide 54 million gallons of water when it opens in late 2018 and ultimately expand to a capacity of 80 million gallons daily.
A moist tale of two cities
Fresno and Clovis both have seasonal watering restrictions, but they vary in schedules and frequency of spring/summer watering.
Rest of the year
Dec. 1 - April 30: One day per week
May 1 - Nov. 30: Two days per week*
Nov. 1 - March 31: One day per week
April 1 - Oct. 31: Three days per week
*Pending possible changes
Sources: City of Fresno; City of Clovis