Valley Voices

Manuel Mollinedo: When it comes to watering Fresno’s parks, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees

The effects of the drought are everywhere in Fresno. We’ve seen the impact of new state water restrictions on our landscaping. We’ve also seen a number of comments from residents who are rightly concerned about the survival of Fresno’s trees, especially in city parks like Woodward and Roeding.

As director of Parks, After School, Recreation, and Community Services for the city of Fresno, I share those concerns. However, there’s more to the issue of stressed trees than meets the eye. When it comes to parks and irrigation, it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.

There are trees dying in our park system now, but they didn’t just start dying a couple of months ago. Those trees have been under severe stress due to drought for the past four years and we’re just now beginning to notice the results.

It’s easy to see that stress when you’re driving along Friant Road or Belmont Avenue. What’s hard to see are the steps the city of Fresno has taken to save our trees.

The majority of the trees impacted are the redwoods that are native to the cool coastal regions of Northern California, where fog and frequent winter rains provide sufficient water. Here in the baking summer heat of Fresno, each redwood tree requires 10 gallons of water per day to match the natural irrigation of the California coast.

Compounding the situation are regulations. Fresno has long been a leader in water conservation and is well on its way to meeting the governor’s executive order to reduce our water use by 28% by next year. To meet that goal, the city of Fresno has had to be aggressive and proactive.

One year ago today, the city moved to stage two of our Water Shortage Contingency Plan, which limits outdoor irrigation to two days per week. That restriction holds true for all customers, including the parks department.

But it’s virtually impossible to properly irrigate the vast amount of landscape in our parks system in just two days. For Woodward Park alone, with 50 different controllers and up to 36 sprinklers on each controller, it takes us two full days just to run the entire system through once. If you see us watering on a Monday, Thursday or Friday, it’s only because those stations couldn’t be watered on normally scheduled days.

On top of that, our window for watering is much more limited than the average residential user. Because our parks are open until 10 p.m., we refrain from most irrigation until after hours so we don’t ruin picnics, sporting events and other social functions.

The majority of the trees in our parks are watered as part of our regular turf irrigation. It’s an inefficient, antiquated, manual process that needs to be upgraded to a dedicated, computerized system that uses bubblers or drip irrigation that forces tree roots deeper underground, making them less susceptible to drought. Until then, we have to find new and innovative ways to irrigate.

That’s why we’ve been tweaking our strategy. For instance, we’ve taken a page from our friends in Public Works, who are dealing with new state regulations that prohibit turf irrigation on medians.

They’ve been trucking in reclaimed water from the city’s waste-water facility and hand watering median trees. PARCS began using the same strategy to hand water trees in places like the disc golf course at Woodward Park, where it won’t damage the landscape to drive heavy trucks over the sod.

In addition, we dug tree wells to hold the water for deeper irrigation. Since then, the city received an unexpected water allotment from the Fresno Irrigation District and a portion of that water is now going to fill the lake at Woodward Park, from which we pull untreated water to irrigate the trees.

Hand watering isn’t a blanket solution to the irrigation challenges in our parks. It’s time consuming and costly. Until we’re able to upgrade our irrigation systems, we’re asking for your patience and understanding.

The PARCS department appreciates every comment, complaint, and proposal because we share your concern about giving the trees in our parks the precious water they need. Our trees are valuable resources that provide clean air and shade, healthy communities, and increased property values. We must all do what we can to help Fresno’s trees survive this lingering drought and remain healthy and robust.

Manuel Mollinedo is director of Parks, After School, Recreation, and Community Services for the city of Fresno.