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Monday, March 25 , 2019, 12:01 pm | A Few Clouds 59º


Santa Maria Takes Creative Approach To Water Conservation

City expands well use, educates customers about leaks, and reduces outdoor irrigation during the drought, cutting back on water use by 18 percent

Santa Maria Utilities Director Shad Springer reveals the city’s progress of achieving state-mandated water conservation goals in the city after the first month, with 18-percent cuts.
Santa Maria Utilities Director Shad Springer reveals the city’s progress of achieving state-mandated water conservation goals in the city after the first month, with 18-percent cuts.  (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo )

When a visiting mayor asked how Allan Hancock College managed to still have green grass despite the drought, he learned about one of Santa Maria’s creative steps to preserve the precious drinking water.

From using non-potable water on lawns at some government facilities, to employing Drippy the Drop to educate customers, to stopping irrigation of turf in the center of roundabouts, Santa Maria has undertaken several measures to conserve water.

And in the first month since the city was ordered to meet a state-mandated reduction of 16 percent, Santa Maria has topped the effort, Utilities Director Shad Springer told the City Council this week.

Despite achieving 18 percent reduction in the first month — 2 percent more than the 16 percent ordered by the state — Springer urged residents to keep cutting back.

“If we’re not conserving enough water then we need to extend the outreach,” Springer told the council. “If we’re really undershooting we may come back to council for additional restrictions but at this point it really doesn’t seem necessary.

“The citizens of Santa Maria have done a good job of stepping up and conserving water,” Springer said.

The 16 percent reduction, compared to usage in 2013, is below the 25 percent average cutback the state ordered other water agencies to achieve. For example, Orcutt, which is served by Golden State Water Company, must reduce water use by 32 percent. 

Santa Maria’s conservation measures include ones that are now commonplace throughout California — no watering between noon and 4 p.m., using a a hose with a shutoff nozzle to wash vehicles, not watering after rain, and not using potable water in decorative fountains.

The city also has set up water conservation hotline to report scofflaws via phone or email. So far, the city has received 160 contacts, Springer said.

“Most of them, frankly, are people reporting on wasteful watering,” he said. A water conservation specialist is sent to the location to let the property know about the broken sprinkler head or other problem.

“Once again, our main goal is education first,” he said.

Utilities Department staff keeps an eye on water usage, alerting residents who have used water every hour of the day for three days that they may have a leak. 

“We’re getting great response from our ratepayers and frankly it’s water that’s going through their meters so it saves them money as well,” he said.

Additionally, the city is strategically expanding a secondary water system using wells that don’t meet drinking water standards due to high nitrate levels.

In the past six months, the program was expanded to Hancock College’s Santa Maria campus, joining the Santa Maria Public Airport and city’s civic center plus other locations.

The Santa Maria Utilities Department uses Drippy the Drop to monitor efforts toward achieving state-mandated water conservation goals. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Maria does has turf turning brown and the city has stopped watering turf on the roundabouts, Springer said.

And, the city crews raised the mowing heights of lawn throughout the parks to cut down on the amount of water needed.

Councilman Bob Orach encouraged residents to use the city’s website to calculate their per-person water use, noting his was 85 gallons a day one month and 93 gallons a day the next month. 

The average is 93 gallons per person per day for residential meters, Springer said.

Additionally, Orach said he and his wife capture the first few seconds of shower water in buckets to take outdoors for thirsty landscaping. 

Councilman Jack Boysen urged conservation, but also encouraged residents to continue to care for their yards. 

“Let’s also remember that water conservation is not an excuse for destroying the character of your neighborhood,” he said. 

The city is touting drought tolerant landscaping with a new flier to show that residents don’t have just use rocks but can use plants that don’t require as much water as non-native vegetation.

In response to a question from Orach, Springer said an annual practice, flushing the water lines via fire hydrants, will occur as planned.

“I will say the No. 1 priority for our water system is to provide safe drinking water for the residents of Santa Maria so whatever that takes is what we will do,” Springer said. “In the fall, we will flush the lines to provide safe clean drinking water for the residents of Santa Maria.”

Even that water won't be wasted under Springer's watch.

“We are in discussions with the Fire Department — maybe when we open those hydrants for flushing it’s a great day for training so we can double dip,” Springer added.

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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