Water. Wheat. Railroad. Prosperity. These are the words at the feet of the Central Park statue that honors one of Turlock’s earliest farmers and our city’s founder, John Mitchell.
Without water, there would be no wheat; without wheat, there would be no need for the railroad; and without the railroad, there would have been a lack of prosperity in Turlock. All of this, however, is based on the first basic need: water.
This summer our region will enter its fourth year of a drought. By July, there will no longer be any runoff entering into the Turlock Irrigation District’s Don Pedro Reservoir, the lifeblood of our region. And next year, if our rainy season looks anything like this year’s, we will see empty canals at the start of the 2016 irrigation season—a first for our region.
Following Governor Brown’s historic Executive Order in April, cities throughout the state will be forced to conserve and, statewide, Californians will be required to meet a conservation threshold of 25 percent.
Based on our city’s past water consumption patterns, the State Water Resources Control Board has ruled that Turlock will need to conserve more—a collective of 32 percent —based on per household use in 2013. This is a challenging, but obtainable goal.
The first step we made toward reaching this goal was to declare Stage 3 of Turlock’s Emergency Water Shortage Plan on Tuesday, April 14. This proclamation calls for several measures, the largest of which requires a reduction of outdoor landscape watering to two days per week. Roughly half of an average household’s water consumption is for landscape uses, so the biggest single water savings will be the reduction of outdoor watering.
While residents are required to conserve, the City of Turlock is already doing its part: sprinklers on landscaped medians irrigated with potable water have been shut off, with trees only being watered by truck with recycled or reclaimed water; our city’s parks will be watered less frequently to mirror our residents’ reduction; and our sports complexes, like Pedretti Park, will remain watered with recycled or reclaimed water.
Some conservation efforts will be seemingly small: Turlock vehicles will be slightly dirtier, as will police and fire engines; lawns in residential neighborhoods and business parks will be less green, as will lawns in front of public buildings and in city parks; and residents will limit shower durations to reduce water consumption, as will restaurants when they serve drinking water only upon a customer’s request. Though small, these actions will make a big impact in our area.
City Hall will continue to explore creative opportunities to conserve and reuse water, like the use of recycled water to irrigate our fairgrounds, the adjustment of our spray park nozzles to be more water efficient, or the reuse of water from fire hydrant flushing for landscape irrigation.
Conservation efforts will not just include City of Turlock facilities and residents’ homes, but will also be seen on our CSU Stanislaus campus, at the Turlock Unified School District facilities, and on Turlock Irrigation District farms as they join us in taking large steps to conserve water.
Through a strategic and disciplined effort, I am convinced that Turlock will meet—and exceed—the required 32 percent conservation rate; but while City Hall has placed unprecedented measures to conserve, there is no better time than now to look for a more reliable source of drinking water.
I continue to personally meet with Modesto and Ceres leaders to bring us one step closer to a surface water agreement, which will leverage nearby river water as an additional source of drinking water. Over three decades in the making, this project is needed now more than ever. As Turlock’s water table drops, the water quantity decreases and the quality of this water with nitrate and arsenic too concentrated for human consumption will render it useless without million-dollar investments in treatment. Bottom line: today’s sole dependence on groundwater will not sustain our city into the future.
A fourth year of drought could easily slip into a fifth or sixth or seventh. Many fear this weather pattern could become the “new normal.” We live in a hot, dry climate that is perfect for some of the high value crops that have become the backbone of our local economy; but with the advantages of such a great microclimate also comes the unreliable and unforgiving reality that we face today.
Most did not notice, but my campaign signs included a silhouette of a cityscape on the left and a farmscape on the right, connected together with a bold line. I chose to place this silhouette on my signs for a reason: Turlock’s residents and farmers are in this drought together. And together, we will either work to conserve our current water resources, unite to create new water sources, and survive this potentially disastrous economic and environmental hardship. Or we will watch as our city wells go dry, our farmland turns to dust, and our agriculturally-based economy falls backward.
It’s a certainty that we will be forced to take one of these two paths, and we will have to take it together.