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Drought Listening Tour opens dialogue between state, local officials
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State officials met with local governments and water district representatives on Wednesday as part of the Drought Listening Tour to discuss the current impacts of the drought in Stanislaus County region, as well as future implications. 

“This is not just to get through the short term, but it’s also for the long term which we’re building because you’re becoming examples for the next generation of leaders by showing them that collaboration is a way of getting to longer term results and better results,” said California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross.

“It makes a difference and it is a model, and it definitely is something that I hope to see replicated up and down the San Joaquin Valley,” continued Ross.

During the meeting on Wednesday, City of Turlock Municipal Services Director Michael Cooke said that he listed the most effective measures that Turlock feels—as a local water provider—have made a difference to encourage water conservation with the drought.

One thing that Cooke highlighted was the City’s demonstrated leadership in reducing water conservation over the past decade.

“For instance, water metering was implemented citywide well ahead of the State’s deadline,” said Cooke. “We also have a state-of-the-art water meter reading system which allows us to more actively manage water resources.”

“Our water savings have been significant for almost a decade—well before the current drought began,” continued Cooke.

The Mayor and City Council also took a leadership role to direct Turlock into action, such as updating the City’s water conservation ordinance, letting medians go brown and putting up signage throughout the community to increase awareness. The Council also directed Turlock to become one of the first cities in the region to reduce watering days from three to two days per week.

Cooke said that the Council also approved a streamlined process which would quickly connect people who live in “county islands” to the City’s water supply, since some residents in and around Turlock rely on shallow wells for their water use.

“In the past, gaining approval to supply City water to someone outside of Turlock could take 30 to 60 days,” said Cooke. “Now it takes two to three days.”

Additionally, Turlock provides trucked water to rural residents throughout Stanislaus County whose wells have gone dry as part of the County’s Temporary Water Assistance Program. The City streamlined that process to allow approved haulers to use City water to fill their trucks as well.

Cooke also noted that the City has been effective in reducing water use through increased engagement and enforcement, as opposed to raising water rates.

Cooke said the Drought Listening Tour was beneficial as it allowed the City to spend time with fellow water purveyors and learn from them.

“Too often we get disconnected from the bigger picture of what’s happening with others who also have a stake in California water use,” said Cooke. “We can all learn from each other when we spend time together. It also helps us break down barriers and allows us to work cooperative on mutually beneficial solutions rather than competing over resources.” 

Stanislaus County Board Supervisor Vito Chiesa echoed Cooke’s sentiments. He said that he hopes to follow up this meeting with County efforts to convene entities together to continue an honest dialogue on how they are going to meet sustainable groundwater management.

 “It’s good for everyone to hear that we’re all in the same boat,” said Chiesa. “No one is immune from the shortage of water, so we need to be working collaboratively.”

Wednesday’s meeting was part of a series of conversations between state drought experts and local officials from municipal governments, water system managers and others intended to boost understanding. The goal was to provide an opportunity for participants to discuss ongoing challenges, local needs and successful efforts in communities across the state.

State officials in attendance were California Department of Water Resources Deputy Director Bill Croyle, State Water Resources Control Board Member Dee Dee D’Adamo, California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary Karen Ross, and Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency Secretary Anna Caballero.

“I just have to say how impressed I am at the leadership that’s here,” said Ross. “The Governor says it every day, we’re all in this together and your leadership at the local level is really what will make the difference.”

Conservation efforts were also discussed at Turlock City Council’s meeting on Tuesday.

In response to Gov. Jerry Brown’s Executive Order that was issued in April to address California’s severe drought conditions, the City of Turlock was given a monthly water conservation standard of 32 percent. Each month, the State Water Resources Control Board compares the City and every other urban water supplier’s water use with their use for the same month in 2013 to determine if they are on track for meeting their conservation standard.

In May, the City “got off to a great start” according to Cooke with a 36 percent reduction. However, that number dropped significantly in July with 19 percent. The City was once again able to meet its conservation standard in July with a 35 percent reduction, however, numbers once again were recently shown to have dropped in August to 26 percent.

“We just got that information, so we’ll disaggregate that data to figure out which customer classes we need to work with and hopefully we’ll help them improve their water conservation efforts,” said Cooke to the Turlock City Council.

Cooke said that if water use continues to rise in September, City staff could potentially recommend that the Council move the beginning date of the winter watering schedule, which normally kicks off on Nov.  1, to Oct. 1. This schedule only permits watering once a week.

“Although we encourage as much as we can through public education and outreach, we do enforcement too for those who have a hard time complying with the schedule,” said Cooke.

The City issued 705 notices in July and 678 notices in August. A total of 56 fines were issued, which is something that Cooke regarded as “good news” since that means 97 percent of customers are changing their behavior upon receiving notices.

Cooke also said that ten people have already taken the City’s online water conservation school, which educates residents on smart water usage and allows offenders to waive their penalty fee.

“We are not after their money, we’re after the water,” said Cooke. “If we can get people to change their behavior, that’s the most important thing.