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Two days or three? How often could Fresno water customers get to sprinkle their lawns?

Sprinklers run on a grassy area in front of Eaton School in Fresno in this 2014 file photo. The Fresno City Council will consider easing its outdoor watering rules on Thursday.
Sprinklers run on a grassy area in front of Eaton School in Fresno in this 2014 file photo. The Fresno City Council will consider easing its outdoor watering rules on Thursday. Fresno Bee file photo

Fresno’s stringent one-day-a-week watering schedule will come to an end later this month. What replaces it – and whether Fresno residents will get to start watering their lawns two days a week or three – could be decided Thursday.

Thomas Esqueda, the city’s public utilities director, will present a workshop for Fresno City Council members Thursday afternoon outlining Fresno’s success in meeting state water conservation goals and offering three possible options for outdoor irrigation starting May 1. 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.

Over the past couple of years, when California imposed strict conservation goals on cities, Fresno’s summer watering was restricted to two days a week. But this winter was the second in a row with above-average rainfall, and an ample snowpack has accumulated in the Sierra Nevada. Still, though, the underground water table from which Fresno draws much of its water continues to be depleted, but at a much slower rate than in recent years of below-average rain, Esqueda said.

The options Esqueda is presenting include:

▪ Allowing three watering days per week for residents from May 1 through Oct. 30, returning to a one-day-a-week program from November through April.

▪ Maintaining the status quo of the past few years, with two watering days per week from May 1 through Oct. 30, and one day per week from November through April.

▪ Adding a new stage to the schedule for the spring and fall, providing for two watering days per week in April and May and September, October and November; three days per week in June, July and August, when lawns and landscaping have the highest demand for water; and one day per week from December through March.

The groundwater is a freaking mess. It’s damaged, it’s wrecked, it is ruined. I can fix a pump. I can fix a well. I can fix a valve. But I can’t fix the groundwater.

Thomas Esqueda, Fresno public utilities director

“The question is, what do you want to do in the spring and the fall?” Esqueda said of the decision the council faces. “For us, it’s all about the water table.”

“The groundwater is a freaking mess. It’s damaged, it’s wrecked, it is ruined,” he added. “I can fix a pump. I can fix a well. I can fix a valve. But I can’t fix the groundwater. The only way to fix the groundwater is to reduce the amount of strain you’re putting on it to meet all these demands.”

Fresno’s water demand for all purposes – residential, commercial, industrial, landscaping and more – has averaged about 224 gallons a day per person under the conservation standards. At its peak, before conservation measures were in place, Esqueda said the consumption was about 365 gallons per person per day.

In recent years, the water table under Fresno has continued to decline. In 2011-12, the year after a rainy winter, the water table was up by about 2.4 feet. But it has fallen in each of the following years, peaking with a 3.76-foot drop in 2013-14. The pace of decline has slowed in 2014-15 and 2015-16, but it’s still falling. “We want it to keep slowing down until we get into the positive,” Esqueda said. “It can happen.”

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