Manteca must ban all front yard grass for new construction in the future

The City of Manteca will pay residential customers up to $650 to remove water-hungry front yard sod that is essentially eye candy.

Yet, at the same time, they’re enabling over 700 new homes a year to install—you guessed it—water-hungry front yard grass.

For one thing, they allow more grass to be added – the highest water usage in town – in the midst of extreme drought.

Then they offer water customers a replacement discount of $1 per square foot as an incentive to switch to landscaping that uses significantly less water.

The Sybil act doesn’t stop there.

It is clear that we are in the grip of a drought and with a fourth consecutive dry year becoming more and more likely – even with the rare storm in September. There is a growing chance that severe mandatory water cuts will be imposed as the water supply continues to decline.

The city must reduce its water consumption by 20%. Yet last month, the city’s August annual savings were just 0.5%, while the California average showed a significantly better 10% reduction.

Even taking into account the per capita increase of approximately 700 new homes completed over the past year, per capita savings are still less than an anemic 4%.

It’s in a context where the city hires a water officer to make sure people follow water use restrictions which – for all that’s basically on offer – focuses on how the lawns are watered.

This covers the full range of day of the week, frequency and time of day to ensure that water does not stray onto sidewalks, driveways, gutters or streets.

Such a tight restriction on where water can flow and restrictions on the time of use is designed to lead to wiser water use and the use of less water.

Lawn watering is the basis of nearly all of the 127 warnings — the precursor to citations with fines that increase with each subsequent violation — issued in August by the Manteca Water Cop.

Why add 700 additional locations per year that a water officer must monitor?

Then there’s the small detail of the huge watering required for two to three months to establish a new lawn.

Planting a lawn in the middle of a severe drought redefines the concept of insanity.

It’s clear – based on hydrology – that California and much of the western United States have been in a dry spell for the past 20 years.

Tree ring data – the width added each year to growth is based on available water – gleaned from carbon data shows that what is now our climate has been more the norm over the past 2,000 years and more in this part of the world.

There was an abnormally wet period between the mid-1700s and the mid-1900s, not only in what we now call California, but also in the United States.

It snowed and rained again. And there were still occasional “normal years” as well as above normal years between sets of dry years.

The problem is that no one can predict with certainty where the next hydrological year, which begins on October 1, will go.

It could be wet. It could be dry. It could be normal.

Currently based on tank levels and drop after tables, normal would be great but it wouldn’t get us out of the woods.

A dry year can be to varying degrees. It could force more restrictive water-saving measures to stretch supplies or – if it’s extremely dry – it could force mandatory water restrictions that none of us will like.

In short, the city has nothing to do with water, whether it’s supplying Manteca next year or for decades to come.

This is a fundamental public health and safety issue.

That said, some might want the city to be a little more aggressive and others might want them to back off a bit. The city has taken a cautious course that isn’t driven by panic or what they may see while burying their heads in the proverbial sand.

Even so, we could go from where we are now to a major disaster overnight or back to a reasonable level of comfort on what would clearly be a temporary basis.

It doesn’t take a genius considering the trends to allow the planting of new decorative lawns in front yards. Las Vegas has already figured this out.

Obviously, you have to phase it out with respect to existing development, although a day may come when it may have to happen suddenly.

Adding more eye turf with non-native grass that consumes water is clearly madness.

As for those who think the answer is a housing moratorium, that won’t happen.

The reason is Sacramento and state law does not allow it.

The only chance of that happening is a clear public health and safety emergency that would trump everything else in court.

The city of Manteca should literally be forced to truck water in and then ration it by the gallon to pickup points around town for people to use.

Manteca, for better or worse, has well over 9,000 homes in the development pipeline, the bulk of which already have building rights.

Loosely translated, you try to stop them and the town will be bombarded with expensive lawsuits they can’t win, just like the orchard floor around Manteca and Ripon is now bombarded with almonds shaken from the trees.

Unless we are entering an apocalyptic dire straits, we need landscaping to reduce heat, control dust, generate oxygen, and make Manteca habitable.

What we can’t afford is non-native landscaping that sucks up water and isn’t suitable for the California climate. And the #1 offender is non-native grass.

Not banning grass from backyards is a nod to their functionality.

Backyard lawns are often used by children to play and for pets to roam. This is where people can meet up with friends and have dinner.

This is not the case with the front courses.

What to do is simple.

The Manteca City Council must immediately ban all front yard sod in new construction as well as all new sod in commercial applications.

And they must do it now instead of waiting for us to stand before the abyss overlooking the canyons of dry rivers.

This column is the opinion of the editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinions of the Bulletin or 209 Multimedia. He can be reached at [email protected]

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