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Wednesday, February 20 , 2019, 6:29 am | Fair 41º


Santa Maria Adopts Watering Restrictions at State’s Direction; Garbage Rate Hikes to Take Effect

Watering landscaped areas will be prohibited between noon and 4 p.m. under a Stage 1 plan adopted by the Santa Maria City Council on Tuesday night, as a result of the statewide drought and not a sign the area’s groundwater basis is drying up.

The council unanimously adopted the resolution to enact the Stage 1 measures of Santa Maria’s Water Shortage Contingency Plan.

But the watering restriction is a requirement of the state, which in July adopted an emergency water regulation in response to drought conditions. Based on Santa Maria’s adequate water supply, the city submitted an alternative conservation plan, which the state rejected, saying all urban water suppliers had to meet the regulations.

“We actually have a pretty robust water supply,” Rick Sweet, director of the Utilities Department, said, adding that the city’s healthy water supply stems from past decisions and expenses to import approximately 165,000 acre-feet of water into the Santa Maria Valley. “We like to think that we stored that water in the valley and now we’re pumping some of it out, but not really that much.”

He noted that city residents use about 13,500 acre-feet of water annually. An acre-foot of water adds up to 12 inches deep covering an acre, or 326,000 gallons.

Local residents once used 112 gallons per capita each day, but the daily per capita water use now hovers in the high 90s. Both of those numbers are well below the 160 gallons per day per capita when Sweet arrived more than a decade ago.

“The citizens of Santa Maria have responded quite well to the water situation and shown a considerable decrease in their water usage over the last two years,” Sweet said. 

City staff chose to restrict watering between noon and 4 p.m. since that’s when evaporation, sun and winds are the highest and there’s the largest possibility  for waste, according to Sweet.

The restrictions won’t interfere with those watering large areas of turf, such as Allan Hancock College, school districts or city parks, since they don’t water during those hours, Sweet said.

The new rules don’t apply to agricultural users, he added. 

If someone violates the watering restrictions, the focus will be on education, not enforcement, according to Sweet.

Councilman Jack Boysen praised the Santa Maria Valley’s former leaders for taking steps insulate the area from severe drought situations.

“I can’t say enough about the forward-thinking folks back in the 1960s who had the sense to build Twitchell Dam,” Boysen said of the facility built east of Santa Maria to hold water to recharge the groundwater basin.

“We have an amazing resilient groundwater basin,” Sweet said. “It’s a giant sand pile and when you add water to it, it sinks right through into the water basin.”

A single high-water-yield year with good flows into the Twitchell reservoir the Santa Maria basin would recover within a year, he said.

“It’s an amazing basin and we’re very very lucky,” Sweet said. 

Additionally Tuesday night, the City Council took steps to implement garbage collection rate hikes after a public hearing where no one spoke in favor or against the proposed 3 percent boost annually for the next three years.

The increases are scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2015, plus again on the first day of 2016 and 2017.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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