The city of Visalia will uphold restrictions on residential and commercial watering as the San Joaquin Valley contends with a droughting drought and plummeting water table.
On Monday, the Visalia City Council reauthorized Stage 2 of the city’s Water Conservation Ordinance. That means residents may only run sprinkler systems twice weekly from March through November.
The city first adopted the Stage 2 restrictions in March 2021. Dry conditions have only amplified statewide since, with the Department of Water Resources announcing Friday that the Sierra Nevada snowpack — which provides water to roughly a third of California’s communities and farms — had measured its lowest water content since the end of the last drought in 2015.
Despite the dire water picture, city leaders and Cal Water officials — the utility that serves most of Visalia’s 140,000 residents — said people have done a good job of conserving water to date. Cal Water stressed, however, that customers should conserve as much as they can on a voluntary basis as the spring and scorching hot summer months approach.
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Visalia already experienced nearly record-busting heat this week with the mercury registering temperatures in excess of 90 degrees.
If voluntary water reductions are not met, it’s possible that the city could move to Stage 3 of the ordinance, though any such move would have to be approved by the City Council. Under Stage 3, homes would only be able to use sprinkler systems once per week.
Hand irrigation using a watering can or hose with a nozzle may be done any day at any time, under both Stage 2 and 3 of the ordinance. All watering is prohibited following measurable rainfall.
Under the current stage 2 restrictions, addresses ending in an even number may run sprinkler systems on Wednesdays and Sundays. Odd-numbered addresses may run sprinklers on Tuesdays and Saturdays. You must water before 8 am or after 6 pm on your watering day.
Drip irrigation systems can be run any day before 8 am or after 6 pm
Stage 3 off the table — for now
Visalia Water Resources Manager Rhett Anderson noted that Visalia reduced its outdoor water use by roughly 5% in 2021 compared to the previous year. While any reduction is helpful, that’s less than the 20% reduction prescribed by Stage 2 of the ordinance.
Anderson attributed the lower than expected reduction to the coronavirus pandemic, which prevented code enforcers from catching, educating and — if necessary — citing the water wasters. Since mid-2021, he said the city has done an “adequate job” of ramping up outreach and enforcement, when needed.
He could not immediately say how many citations were issued since the Stage 2 restrictions were adopted.
Under the ordinance, receipt of more than one warning in a 12-month period will result in a $125 fine. A third citation will cost $250 and each subsequent citation will cost $625.
A water education class may be taken in lieu of the first citation.
Like the city of Visalia, Cal Water leaders said they prefer educating to punishing those who don’t restrict their water usage.
“We try to take an educational approach rather than be water cops. Under Stage 2, the penalties are there if we have to use them,” said Yvonne Kingman, the company’s director of corporate communication. “We really hope to see an additional reduction moving into the spring and summer.”
Kingman promoted a number of free programs Cal Water has implemented over the past year to help customers reduce and conserve water.
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Those include rebates for customers who convert their lawns to drought-tolerant gardens, or who convert their sprinklers to more efficient drip irrigation systems. A new initiative will also send an evaluator to your property to identify equipment that might need repairs or efficiency upgrades, which the company will complete free of charge.
“We don’t want money to be a barrier to using water wisely,” Kingman said. For more information about the programs, customers can visit CalWater.com/conservation
At this time, Kingman and Anderson said there are no plans to consider recommending stage 3 of the ordinance, though the utility and the city are working closely together to monitor water levels. Gov. Gavin Newsom recently called on local water managers to implement plans that prepare for water shortages up to 20%, which Visalia already has covered under its stage 2 plan.
Kingman said the city reduced its water usage by 5% in February compared to the previous year, though water usage has fluctuated in other months.
“Even though 5% may not seem like much, Visalians have always done a good job of conserving water and are at a good baseline already,” Kingman said. “Historically, our Visalia customers have always responded to our calls to voluntarily conserve water.”
Joshua Yeager is a reporter with the Visalia Times-Delta and a Report for America corps member. He covers Tulare County news deserts with a focus on the environment and local governments.