The Visalia City Council took major steps this week to combat the effects of the worst drought in California’s history. After discussing how to respond to the drought during two February meetings, the city council took its initial vote to implement a modified Stage 4 Water Conservation Ordinance. A final vote could come as early as the March 17 meeting.
City staff recommended that the council decide between two sets of revisions to the Stage 4 Water Ordinance. Option A would restrict watering to two days per week for nine months, and one day per week for three winter months (December, January, February); Option B would restrict watering to two days per week for eight months and three days per week during the four summer months (June, July, August, September). Both options would place a limit on the duration of watering and prohibit the installation of cool season lawns and overseeding with annual ryegrass.
Option A would reduce outdoor irrigation by approximately 42%, while Option B would reduce outdoor irrigation by approximately 22%. This is consistent with the governor’s call for a 20% reduction and most turf, although possibly stressed, likely would survive. Option A will come at a significant price. Watering only two days a week during the summer will likely stress lawns and result in the loss of many lawns and result in the loss of many coolseason lawns, including landscaped areas owned by the city. Staff anticipates that there will be significant complaints from citizens and there will be a significant cost to re-landscape areas that have included a lot of cool-season turf.
Vice Mayor Warren Gubler and Council Member Bob Link both voiced reservations about passing such a severe ordinance without getting more public input. Their reluctance to proceed with approving the staff report originated from a private email received that day from someone who could not make it to the meeting.
“The community expects action,” said Mayor Steve Nelsen. “They want to help but they don’t know what to do. The citizens of this community expect leadership.” He added that the Tulare County Board of Supervisors voted to cut off watering on all county properties.
Council Member Greg Collins said that Lindsay and Orange Cove aren’t debating how many days to water their lawns: they have banned it completely. “To take one more meeting is a waste of time,” he said. “This is a wake-up call for the citizens that we live in a desert and we need to modify how we deal with our lawns.”
Link agreed with the severity of the situation, but said that this is a decision that the community needs to make. Gubler said that he would like to see the council do more outreach.
“We were voted into office to make decisions,” responded Council Member Amy Shuklian. “Sometimes those won’t be popular decisions.” Mayor Nelsen agreed, saying that the city council had spent six weeks talking about this issue. “While we wait, water runs.”
Referring to the email sent to the city council that day expressing opposition to the ordinance, Nelsen noted, “If these people have something to say they need to come to the meetings. The citizens need us to act. Don’t abdicate your role to another committee.”
Shuklian then proposed a combination of the two options put forth by the city staff, creating an Option C. This would restrict watering to one day per week for eight months, and three days per week during the four summer months. Her motion was seconded by Collins and passed 3-2, with Gubler and Link voting no.
Shuklian then moved to approve the additional Stage 4 revisions with a few modifications. Her motion passed 3-2, again with Gubler and Link opposed. The following restrictions were passed by the council.
All elements of Stage 3, of which Visalia been under since 1991, shall remain in effect in Stage 4 except that:
- Irrigation is limited to one day per week from October 1 to May 31, and three days per week from June 1 to September 30.
- Irrigation is limited to no more than 15 minutes per station up to two times per day.
- Very low-flow drip-type irrigation is exempt from the duration restrictions.
- There is an exemption for testing, adjusting or repairing of irrigation systems for no more than five minutes per station with official City of Visalia signage notifying the public of the testing. The sign would consist of a form downloaded from the city’s website to be filled in with the address, date and time of the repair.
- There is an exemption for watering or irrigating shrubs and trees, or vegetation intended for human consumption, by use of an attended hand-held bucket or similar container, or an attended hand-held hose equipped with a positive shut-off nozzle or device.
- Sports fields are defined as a public or private facility improved with apparatus and/or field striping supporting a business necessity or public benefit use that provides turf areas as playing surface for regularly scheduled (at least weekly) individual and team sports, and does not include a facility on a residential property. Sports fields and public and private golf course greens and tees (not fairways) may deviate from the mandatory irrigation day and time restrictions in order to maintain play areas and accommodate event schedules by submitting to the city manager or designee an alternative watering schedule that reduces overall water use by 20 percent.
- Large landscape areas are defined as an area of vegetation at least three acres in size supporting a business necessity or public benefit use such as parks, golf courses, schools and cemeteries. Large landscape areas may deviate from the mandatory irrigation day restrictions by submitting to the city manager or designee an alternative watering schedule that reduces overall water use by more than 22 percent.
- Overseeding of lawns with annual ryegrass is prohibited. Exception is provided for maintenance of sports fields and golf course greens and tees.
- Filling or re-filling ornamental lakes or ponds is prohibited, except to the extent needed to sustain aquatic life.
- All outdoor mist cooling systems related to human comfort are prohibited.
- Swimming pools cannot be drained and refilled more than once every three years.
- Exceptions are for health and safety concerns, repairs or if the water is heavily mineralized. Draining for failure to properly maintain a pool is a violation. (Presently, pool drains require a permit issued at no charge by the Natural Resource Conservation Division, but there is no restriction on the frequency of draining in the current ordinance.)
- Stage 4 will be enforced by issuing one warning before issuing a citation. Citations will be issued without a warning for “willful and egregious” violations such as draining a pool without a permit. The city manager can make a determination of other “willful and egregious” violations.
In the event of an acute water shortage, the city council voted to create a Stage 5 to the water ordinance. Stage 5 would be mandatory compliance where all elements of Stage 4 remain in effect except that:
- No landscape irrigation is allowed except for watering or irrigating shrubs and trees, or vegetation intended for human consumption, by use of an attended hand-held bucket or similar container, or an attended hand-held hose equipped with a positive shut-off nozzle or device. All watering of lawns is prohibited.
- Sports fields and public and private golf course greens and tees may deviate from the mandatory irrigation day and time restrictions in order to maintain play areas and accommodate event schedules by submitting to the city manager or designee an alternative watering schedule that reduces overall water use by 50 percent. Irrigation of golf course fairways is prohibited.
- Swimming pool draining is prohibited except for health and safety concerns. Draining for failure to properly maintain a pool is a violation.
- Washing automobiles, trucks, trailers, boats, airplanes and other vehicles is prohibited except at commercial or fleet vehicle washing facilities.
Gubler was adamant that there should be a sunset clause for Stage 4 and Stage 5 water ordinances. Shuklian motioned that a 12-month sunset clause be added to the ordinance which passed unanimously.
Finally, the council voted to increase enforcement of the Water Conservation Ordinance by hiring a third part-time water conservation education coordinator. This person will focus on education and nighttime and weekend violations. Additionally, a reduction of the number of warnings before a citation is issued was approved in the revised Water Conservation Ordinance. The council also voted to expand the water conservation informational campaign. This outreach campaign will cost the city $25,000 and will be taken from the General Fund.