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Help Save California’s Water Now
Merced, it’s time to adopt a new habit. One of our most important resources is in trouble, and we need to do everything we can to protect it today and into the future.
Our state is facing severe water challenges, and many communities and ecosystems are suffering as a result. Environmental problems, the pressures of a growing population and the effects of climate change are making it extremely difficult to keep water flowing reliably to our economy, our environment, our farms and our communities.
State and local water managers are working on long-term solutions, including investments in our water infrastructure. But in the meantime, California needs every drop of water it can get, which is why we all need to do more to conserve water. Doing everything we can to save water today will go a long way toward helping our water supply situation while we move ahead with the necessary long-term fixes.
The good news is that it’s not difficult to save water in our daily lives. Just as Californians have embraced compact-fluorescent light bulbs and recycling, we can adopt habits to reduce our water use inside and outside our homes on a daily basis. As we have seen with energy conservation, small changes in our daily habits can make a big difference for California.
In 2009, the California Department of Water Resources joined with the Association of California Water Agencies—450 public water agencies throughout the state—to form a statewide conservation and education program called “Save Our Water”. This effort is aimed at helping Californians learn about our water challenges and ways to save water inside and outside our homes.
For example, did you know that the typical Californian uses much more water outdoors than indoors? Watering the lawn, washing cars and cleaning off the driveway and patio use much more water than you might think. Simple changes to our behavior, such as watering only when your landscape needs it or using a broom instead of the hose on the driveway, can add up to big water savings for the state.
So join in this statewide effort to save California’s water. Plant water-wise landscaping, install a SMART irrigation controller, and take shorter showers. These are just a few of the easy ways we can all help to “save our water.”
For more information about how to conserve water or about the “Save Our Water” public education program, please visit www.saveourH2O.org or join the effort on Facebook and Twitter.
Declaration of a Water Emergency
By Leah Brown Water Conservation Specialist for the City of Merced
The governor of our state has just declared the drought, but what does this really mean? Does this change things for us in Merced? Will we have to start rationing water? Will our rates go up? These are the kinds of questions we are getting at the City’s Public Works Department lately. Staff is working hard as ever to answer the publics’ questions and serve to inform and assist them.
In California we have seasons of drought every three years or so, but this particular drought is especially dry, we are at all-time record lows for rain, and this situation has risen to the attention of state and federal leaders. Back in 1992, the City of Merced recognized the water problems and declared at that time, over twenty years ago, a Water Shortage and Emergency situation. We put into place a schedule for outdoor landscape watering along with rules and guidelines for using our water efficiently. We have continually been working to inform the public on water efficiency since then.
The City of Merced also evaluated our water rates most recently in 2012 taking into account the water utility’s needs, the cyclical nature of drought in California, and our predicted supply and demand. Council approved a rate structure to take us through to 2017, so our water rates in the City of Merced are staying consistent with what was planned and approved back in 2012. Metered rate accounts took a small decrease in 2013 and Flat rate accounts have a slight increase this year that will remain the same through 2017. At that time we plan to re-evaluate the rate structure and plan for the future.
We have seen an overall decrease in the City’s per-capita water consumption as a result of this efficiency planning. We need to continue on this trend of being efficient consumers of our water supply, especially today in light of this severe drought. Although the city allows three days a week to water, I urge you to trim down to once per week or even less than that. I turned off my irrigation in November and my lawn is on the greener side of brown, but it is winter and it will come back around again in the spring, and hopefully by then we’ll have had some showers to give it a jump start. Let’s all be extremely conscientious of our water use to get us through this drought and if you see water flowing where it should not be, please give me a call.
“Help! Water is geysering up, what do I do?” This is a typical plea for help that comes into the Public Works office on a regular basis. Sometimes that water is coming from the city’s pipelines and sometimes your own. The City of Merced maintains the water mains that travel under the streets in a network called the water distribution system, those lines travel from our well sites to your property line ending at your water meter. If you don’t have a meter, your lateral water line connects right to our main with usually some type of shut off valve on your property.
As a homeowner you are responsible for the water lines on your property, some of those water lines run into your house and some are in the irrigation system in your yard. From the meter to your house, are lines that must all be maintained and repaired by you. There are usually a couple of places on private homes where water can be shut off. There should be a red wheel valve on the customer’s side of the meter so that you can easily turn the water off to the whole property. Also many houses have separate shut off valves under the garden hose bib that can shut off all or some of the water to the property. Kitchen sinks will also have shut off valves under the faucets. Toilets usually have a shut off valve behind or to the side of the bowl.
If you ever see water gurgling up from the asphalt in the street, that’s a sign of a water main break, give us a call at 385-6800 and we will be right out to assess the situation and plan for repair. If you see water gurgling up in your yard or home, first attempt to shut off the water yourself at your meter’s wheel valve or valve into the house, if you can’t find it, give us a call for assistance. If it’s during business hours, we can come out and turn off your water for free so that you can get the repair done. You can also call a plumber right away if it’s on a weekend or night. You may still need to call a plumber if the repair is beyond your abilities. For more information call 385-6800.
Shaving Shower Water
We sometimes shave in the shower, but in an effort to be more green, we should be shaving our showers; meaning spending less time in the shower. Shower time = water down the drain. Less time = less water used. Shaving water used is what it’s all about. I think one of the simpler ways to shave time and water off your shower is to change to a low flow shower head.
A typical shower head uses about 4 gallons per minute. So a nice hot 30 minute shower (a typical time frame for many teens) uses 120 gallons of water! But if you spend about $20 dollars for a nice low flow showerhead at the local hardware store you can reduce your water usage by 50%. Now that can be some great water savings especially if you’ve got a large family like mine.
A slightly more innovative approach to saving water in the shower involves a simple 5 gallon bucket. Place the bucket in the shower to collect the water as it’s heating up. Use that water to fill pet drinking bowls and water plants. It’s a low tech solution to saving water and involves a bucket that most of us probably have around the house anyway.
Placing a 5-minute shower timer on the shower wall is another way to conscientiously monitor your shower time and keep to your morning schedule. Stop by the Public Works office for a free 5-minute shower timer.
Conservation Quiz 101: Which of the following is a reason for saving water?
A. Conserving water will save me money on my water bill, my sewer bill, and my water-heating bill.
B. The population is growing but our available water supply isn’t. I need to be thrifty so water will be available for my children and grandchildren.
C. Groundwater is being used faster than it is being replaced. I know the lowering of the water table destroys native vegetation and creates hardship for wildlife.
D. Over pumping of groundwater causes land sinkage and increases the risks of subsidence.
E. Using less water postpones the need for my water company to build more wells, treatment, and storage facilities.
F. It’s the law. In California, we need to reduce our water usage by 20% in 2020. Toward that end, my water provider is required to help me use water as carefully and efficiently as possible.
G. Because it is the right thing to do. Waste of anything as precious and as limited in quantity as water is a real shame.
H. It’s easy. Saving water can be fun and creative for every member of my family.
I. All of the above.
Answer: (I.) All of the reasons given are excellent reasons to conserve water. For more information call 385-6800. How to Read Your Meter
Your water meter can tell you a lot of useful information. You can use your meter to monitor your water use and to check for leaks. With the hard freeze that we’ve just experienced in Merced, it’s a good idea to check around your property for any cracked pipes and leaky sprinklers.
First locate your water meter, which should be in the front yard, either in the grass or side walk. The lid will say WATER on it and it will have a notch where you can insert a long screw driver to pop the lid up. Be careful when removing and replacing the lid, you don’t want to drop the lid on your foot or on the top of the meter! The top of your meter will look like the photo.
Each full turn of the red dial is 1 cubic foot which is equal to 7.48 gallons. In the City of Merced, your base water rate includes 30 hcf (hundred cubic feet) or 22,400 gallons of water per month. You can use more that 30 hcf of water, but it will cause your bill to increase. The little blue dial is a low flow indicator and will move even when you have a small leak. If all water inside and outside of your house is turned off completely and you check your meter, it should be perfectly still; unless you have a leak, then you will see the little blue dial moving.
The water odometer, records water use like a car odometer will record miles. The odometer records water use in cubic feet. The digits from the right represent 1 cubic foot, 10 cubic feet, and 100 cubic feet respectfully. You can tell how much water is being used if you write down your meter odometer’s full number, then come back the next week or month later and record that number. Subtract the first number recorded from the most recent and that will tell you how many cubic feet have been used during that time frame. You can convert it to gallons by multiplying that number by 7.48; then you will know how many gallons that you used during that time frame. You can divide that number by the amount of days in between your recordings to find out an average of how many gallons per day you are using. And if you find that you have a leak, fix it right away. Leaking pipes are like money down the drain and simply a waste of our precious resource.
For more information on how to read your water meter, you can contact me at the Public Works department, 385-6800.
Green Resolution Time! By Leah Brown, Water Conservation Specialist
It’s 2013 and time for some Green Resolutions. Our planet isn’t getting any younger or less polluted for that matter. Our global footprint is getting bigger and as our population increases so does our use of natural resources. Let’s all vow to be better recyclers and to be better stewards of our water.
I find that my seven year old son is very motivated by spare change so he has become our #1 recycler of bottles and cans at home. We go to a local recycler once a month and turn in all our bottles and cans; he does the work by sorting the items and loading up the car and I drive us there. He gets the money and we both get the satisfaction of keeping those plastics and metals out of the garbage stream. And all the other paper, cardboard, plastic bottles & jugs, and non-crv metal cans go in the blue can.
We also try very hard to watch our water usage. My boys are being brought up to know that you keep the water off when you brush your teeth and tubs do not have to be full to take a bath. You’d be surprised by how much easier it is for our kids to be green minded than changing the habits of adults. But you can teach an old horse a new trick, we adults can be green, it just takes a bit more well thought out effort. We have to set our minds to it and resolve to do better.
What better time for resolutions than in January. So let’s all resolve to be greener by recycling wisely, watering less, turning the water off when shaving or brushing teeth, re-using water if possible, and being more thoughtful of our water use in general.
Resolve to be green in 2013.
Water in Review
As 2012 draws to a close, I have to reflect on the past year’s water activities around the City. The City’s water division pumped approximately 8.8 billion gallons of water; that’s equal to about 24 million gallons per day! We have made significant progress in educating the public about water conservation and greener living through articles like these, as well as, social media, and direct letters to those not aware of the conservation ordinance. I’ve attended community organization meetings like the Chamber of Commerce’s Green Team, Rotary, Master Gardeners, AARP, and various classrooms and auditoriums at our local schools. I’ve met many of you at the Thursday night Market on Main, andthrough our Public Works booth at the Merced County Fair. It’s been a great year and I’ve noticed significantly less water waste around our community.
And now the city has a new water rate structure in place to encourage water conservation and sustain the water needs in Merced for the next five years. If you are on a meter your rates will come down a bit starting in 2013. For those still receiving unlimited water on a flat rate, we will be working on funding for your conversion to water meters. Communitywater leaders are meeting regularly to work on an Integrated Regional Water Management Plan, to help fund projects and make sure the Merced Region has a sustainable water plan for the future.
As the year draws to a close, I encourage you to continue to think about water conservation and greener living practices. Now that we’ve survived 12/21/12, (maybe the Mayan’s ran out of room!), we need to plan for the future and not be wasteful today so that we can sustain tomorrow.
For questions on water conservation, you can reach the Water Conservation Specialist, Leah Brown, at the Public Works office at 385-6800. Happy New Year Merced!
What is Waste?
In lay terms, landscape water is wasted if it is not being absorbed into the soil and is running down the sidewalk, gutter, or down the drain. If you are a customer of the city water system (you may even live in a county pocket and still be a customer of city water) then you are only allowed to water three days per week. Watering on the wrong day or time of day is considered a waste of water. The days of the week you can water are determined by your address. Houses with addresses ending in 0, 2, 4, 6, or 8 can water on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Houses with addresses ending in 1, 3, 5, 7, or 9 can water on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. And you can water in the morning, no later than 11 a.m. or in the evening after 7 p.m. The rules against watering in the middle of the day have to do with not watering during the time when water will most easily be evaporated. When you water, the goal is for that water to be absorbed by the plants, in the middle of the day much of the sprinkler water is being evaporated into the air.
Each water utility has its own rules for conserving water, some are far more restrictive than ours. So if you live outside of the City of Merced water system, be sure to tap into your water company’s rules and guidelines. Set your sprinkling timers so that you follow the rules of your water system and cause no run-off; run-off is simply a waste of water. For more water conserving tips, call the Public Works – Water division at 209-385-6800.
What do you do if your water bill is rising?
If you have an unusually high water bill, there are several things to look at.
Is your water meter moving?
Are there any dripping faucets? Thirty drips per minute adds up to approximately 15 gallons per day.
Do you have a leaking toilet?
Is there a leaking irrigation valve?
Do you have a sprinkler system? If so, is it on a timer? Is the timer operating correctly? Are you watering more than 5-10 minutes per station?
Were you gone for any number of days during the month in question? If so, did somebody take care of your plants or animals for you?
Do you have a water softener? Is it operating correctly?
Do you have an under-the-sink filter system? Is it operating correctly?
Does the handle on your toilet have to be jiggled to make the water stop running?
Do you have a hot tub or pool? If so, have you adjusted the float arm lately?
Did you have your fire sprinkler system maintained?
Have you repaired any leaking faucets, water heaters, etc., lately?
Is there a recycling hot water unit? Is it operating correctly?
Are there any wet spots on the lawn or inside the home on walls, ceilings, etc.?
If you are a commercial customer (restaurant, convenience store, etc.), do you have a purifying water machine, "serve yourself" machine, or soft drink machine that might need repair or have experience unusually high usage?
If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, then you may have found the source of your unusual water usage. Investigate further and make your own adjustments to decrease the water usage. You may need to call a local plumber to assist with a leak. You can call Public Works at 385-6800 to have your water turned off or on so that the leak can be prepared, this is a free service during business hours. In the beginning…. By Leah Brown
I reach out to various ages of school children and adults in my duties as the City’s Water Conservation Specialist and sometimes I may place more emphasis on how to conserve water over the reason of why we must conserve. And it is the littlest minds that remind me to start at the beginning of the story to help them understand the full story. The beginning of this water conservation story is the reasons why we must conserve.
We, as Americans, as citizens of California, and water consumers in Merced have the precious benefit of safe, healthy, plentiful drinking water. Our water will not make you ill and exceeds all requirements for safe drinking water set by the US EPA and the State Department of Public Health. We have affordable water readily available for drinking, washing, growing, and recreation.
What we don’t see on a daily basis is the global picture of where water ranks in value, in supply, and in need. You can go several days without food in the dessert, but you won’t survive a day without water.
In Merced, we are just a little over an hour’s drive from the coast and all the recreation enjoyed there. Ocean water represents 97% of all the world’s water and it is non-potable, we can’t drink it without expensive filtration to remove the salt. Not that we can easily see it, but 2% of the earth’s water is frozen, mostly in the polar icecaps. That leaves only 1% of all the water on the earth as fresh water that could be available for drinking. Of that 1% only half of that is groundwater and the other half is surface water that must go through treatment to be safe to drink.
Many countries do not have safe plentiful drinking water. Have you been to Mexico lately and had a tall glass of ice water? If you did, I’m sure it was a vacation experience not to be forgotten. In third world countries, the water we consume during a 5-minute shower is equal to all the water a person gets for the whole day for drinking, bathing, cooking, …Everything! And if you follow Central Valley news, you know of the California farmers’ struggle for adequate amounts of water for growing crops. Water issues are important in California and they should be to all of us.
So I hope that you will remember when you turn on that tap, water those beautiful green lawns, and take your hot morning shower what a precious resource we have flowing through our pipes here in the City of Merced. I hope that you will think and act conservatively with your water use and realize its true precious value. That is why we conserve.
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What is Xeriscaping?
Xeriscaping refers to landscaping in ways that reduce or eliminate the need for supplemental water from irrigation. Changing from traditional turf centered landscaping with sprinkler systems to water conscious xeriscaping with drip irrigation systems can help reduce pollutant carrying run-off.
If you live north of Bear Creek, all of the storm drain/gutter run-off along your streets goes directly into the creeks. Any water (or trash and debris) that is in the gutters in the north side of town flow to the creeks. This becomes a problem when lawns are over-watered. Lawn water run-off contains chemical contaminants from fertilizers and that material pollutes our beautiful urban waterways.
Do your part to help keep our creeks pollution free by not overwatering and sweeping up any trash in the gutter. Our city street sweeping program helps, but between sweepings keep a broom handy to take care of any trash, especially during a rain storm (not that we’ve seen much rain).
You can make a slow change to water efficient xeriscaping one section of yard at a time. Visit the local nurseries and shop around for low water consuming plants and native warm season grass. Warm season grass is more appropriate for Merced and requires less water than non-native Kentucky Bluegrass type turf. Turf has the highest plant water needs, so consider reducing the amount of turf in your yard and replacing it with native plants, rocks, stone pavers, or other water efficient xeriscape.
Xeriscaping helps us all by reducing water pollution flowing to the creeks and saving our precious water resources for years to come.
California Native Plants
In my search for all things related to water conservation, I am becoming a student of botany and landscape design. I am finding that a great way to design water efficient landscape is to think of our native California plants and work from there. Native plants are meant to grow in this dry climate and are particularly fond of our hot dry summers. I will try to spotlight a few native plants and recommend a trip to the local nurseries for their expert information on native plants.
According to bewaterwise.com, the California Redbud is an interesting plant all year long, with magenta flowers on leafless stems in summer, followed by crimson seedpods and heart-shaped blue-green leaves.
Deciduous, with yellow or red fall foliage falling away in winter to reveal smooth reddish brown trunks. Long lived, very drought tolerant, and flowers more profusely as it matures. The Cleveland Sage is the most fragrant of the sage shrubs, its scent carries 20 feet on a warm night. Its fragrant pale lavender to violet blue flowers bloom in early summer and it is drought tolerant. As far as trees go, the Western Sycamore is drought tolerant once it’s established.
It’s smooth, gracefully twisted branches, multiple or leaning trunks have patchy brown, gray and white bark. The Western Sycamore can grow 15-20 feet in 5-10 years. This tree attracts hummingbirds and butterflies.
For more information on drought tolerant California native plants, contact your local garden store. And help stimulate our economy by buying those new plants from Merced stores.
Water Conservation is now on Facebook, search for City of Merced: Water Conservation and "Like" our page!
Don’t Flush Our Most Precious Resource down the Drain
“Shhh, swoosh”, that’s the sound of our community’s most precious resource being flushed down the drain. Every day your typical Merced resident uses in excess of a hundred gallons of water to cover their basic needs. The City of Merced Water Division would like to challenge you to ramp up your water saving ways by not flushing water needlessly down the drain. We have several tips that can help save water and thus save you dollars on your utility bill.
Did you know that 30% of your household water is simply flushed down the toilet drain? Can you imagine how much water would be conserved if you simply switched out your old 5 gallon toilet with an energy efficient ultra-low-flow toilet? You could literally save thousands of gallons each year by replacing that old toilet with an ultra-low-flow toilet that uses just under 1.6 gallons of water per flush. An alternative to purchasing new toilet would be to place a water displacement devise in your tank to offset some of the water in the toilet tank. You can accomplish this rather inexpensively by filling an empty plastic milk jug with water and placing it in the tank.
Another great way to save household water is making sure not to run your dishwasher or clothes washer with a half load. Just as much water is used in a full load as in a half load. Showers are more water efficient than baths. A full bathtub uses about 70 gallons of water, but a 5-minute shower using a low-flow showerhead only uses about 10 to 25 gallons. And when you are running that water to heat it up, try placing a bucket in the shower to collect the cold water to use elsewhere in the house. You can later use that water to fill your pet’s water bowl or water your plants.
An unchecked water leak can really increase your water bill and waste water resources. A leaky faucet that can fill an 8 ounce container in less than 30 minutes could waste as much as 1,225 gallons of water each year. And if you hear your toilet flowing when not in use, it is like having an open faucet. Speaking of open faucets, if you run the water faucet while brushing your teeth, you can expect to waste about 2 gallons of water per minute. It’s amazing how much water is simply wasted by our everyday habits.
The City of Merced Water Division would like to remind you to help save our water by remembering these helpful tidbits when using water in our everyday lives.
Ben Franklin once said, “When the well is dry, we learn the worth of water.” For more information on water conservation, please call the City of Merced Water Division at 209- 385-6800 .
HELPFUL WATER CONSERVATION SUGGESTIONS:
* Water your lawn only when needed, three times a week on your watering days late at night or early in the morning to keep evaporation to a minimum.
* Check your sprinkler timers and reduce watering times to less than 10-15 minutes.
* Apply a layer of organic mulch around plants to reduce moisture loss and prevent excessive weed growth
* Use a broom to sweep outdoors.
* Ask your local nursery for suggestions on drought tolerant plants. They do not need to be watered as much and can survive a dry period without any watering.
* Check your sprinkler heads, valves and drip emitters monthly for leaks and make sure the sprinkler heads are aimed properly.
* Check for other household leaks. Leaks allow water and your money to go down the drain. To help detect hidden leaks, turn off anything that uses water and see if your water meter is still moving. If it is, there could be a leak somewhere on your property.
* Adjust your watering schedule for each season. In fall, you can reduce your watering by half. By December, you can turn off your irrigation system completely.
* If you notice someone wasting water, call the Public Works Department at 385-6800 to report it or click on this e-mail link to send us a note, firstname.lastname@example.org. In your e-mail include time of day, date, and address of location of water wasting.
* Water Conservation helps save resources and your money!