Visalia City Council Relaxes Watering Restrictions

Visalia’s water depth was 20 feet below surface level in 1987. It’s now 135 feet below surface level — and trending deeper. Courtesy/City of Visalia

It didn’t happen without a fight, but Visalia residents can now water their lawns three days a week instead of two.

At its August 7 meeting, Visalia City Council voted 3-2 to change to Stage 1 from Stage 2 of the Water Conservation Ordinance.  Stage 1 allows residents to water three days per week March through November, and one day per week December through February.

Some disgruntled residents who wanted the restrictions loosened, noted that other South Valley cities have increased their irrigation days to three and questioned why Visalia wasn’t following suit. Those in favor of the change also said the current restrictions don’t make sense because California just had a wet year.

Councilmember Nelsen’s brother was for the change while the councilmember was not. His brother lamented the fact that the area has a massive amount of water, some of which just flows into the ocean. Though Nelsen was the only member of the public to speak in favor of increased watering, he spoke for a group of residents in the audience.

Of the 10 major cities in the South Valley seven are on three days per week irrigation schedules. For these reasons Vice-Mayor Bob Link requested that this item be put on the agenda.

Those towns that reverted to three days a week are Dinuba, Exeter, Lindsay, Tulare, Bakersfield, Clovis and Fresno. The three that have stayed at two days a week are Porterville, Farmersville and Woodlake.

It is interesting to note that four of the seven towns that now allow three days of watering are not solely dependent on their groundwater supply but also receive surface water.

Visalia is completely dependent on groundwater.

A graph presented to the council during a power point showing the dramatic loss of groundwater is what prompted Maile Melkonian to speak out during public comment. The slide illustrated how Visalia’s water depth has gone from a depth of 20 feet in 1987 to its current 135 feet below ground level.

Melkonian said, “Please take a look at this slide. It is as clear as it is alarming.” She continued that the graph clearly states the case that the water supply is only going in one direction.

“We need to ask ourselves. Are we OK with this?”

Water experts cannot tell the city leaders how many feet down the aquifer reaches or when or if it will run out.

A local landscaper said that we just survived four years of drought and have had one wet year. He said the public needs to learn that “we live in a place with little water.”

Stage II was implemented in May of 2015 and reaffirmed in April of this year. That decision prompted Nelsen’s statement, “I’m trying to figure out why we are here.”

“In April we voted 4-0 to stay the course. During that period of time I have received one letter in support and one letter against changing stages.”

Nelsen explained that Governor Jerry Brown made an executive order declaring an end to the drought as a state of emergency, except for Tuolumne, Kings, Fresno, and Tulare Counties. All four counties are in extreme overdraft.

Melkonian added during her public comment that people who live in the Valley have been behaving irresponsibly since the 1940’s. “We have been using more water than we can replace.”

Councilman Greg Collins said that Visalia looks more like Portland than Phoenix and that we need a paradigm shift. “What this is, is a bankrupt aquifer and it might collapse.  Brown lawns will be the least of our problems.”

Nelsen received a letter from Mark Larsen, General Manger of the Kaweah Delta Water Conservation District. Larsen said that the basin’s water level had dropped 60 feet in ten years and recommended against loosening the restrictions.

“I sit on four water committees and am about to start a fifth and I trust Mark Larsen,” said Nelsen.

The staff report stated that The Environmental Committee reviewed this matter and “voted to recommend to the City Council that they remain at Stage 2, but that additional educational outreach occur on the rules, and also what is allowed, such as drip irrigation and how to appropriately hand water.”

Despite the recommendation, Link took note that the residents of Visalia have put a lot of money into their landscaping.  He said that the people want the city to  change to stage I. Nelsen added that even though Tulare changed to watering three days a week they still use the same amount of water as Visalia’s two days because they watered less. Link believes the same can happen in Visalia through education.

Mayor Warren Gubler boiled it down to simple math. He calculated that watering three days a week would use 3500 more acre feet of water per year. He added that there is no good science that can say that stage I would affect the groundwater level and that staying at stage II would only be a symbolic gesture.

“It’s a drop in the bucket,” he said. “The first rule is that we should do no harm and people’s landscaping is being harmed.”

Stage I is effective immediately. Odd addresses can water on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday and even addresses can water on Wednesday, Friday and Sunday.

Visalians can water before 8am or after 6pm on their designated watering day. Two or more short cycles are recommended, but runoff is prohibited.

Willful and egregious violations such as draining a pool without a permit will result in the issuance of a citation without a warning. Each day that a violation continues, shall be regarded as a new and separate offense.

For more information about the City of Visalia Water Conservation Ordinance please call 713-4531 or visit

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