Merced water restrictions a step closer to reality

MERCED, Calif.

The city council recently approved the first reading of an ordinance that would reduce the number of days and hours residents can water their lawns. It would also limit the way fundraising car washes can be held. Officials say the changes may not be easy, but they are necessary.

Leah Brown drives around the streets of Merced five days a week to make sure residents are following the rules for watering their lawns.

Brown explained, "I'm just looking around for any signs of water waste or if there's anyone who may be watering against the schedule."

Right now residents can water three days a week -- which are based on if they have odd or even numbered addresses. But a new ordinance would cut that down to two days.

Brown said, "So if you are on an even schedule, you would water on Tuesday & Saturday, and if you're on odd, you would water on Wednesday & Sunday."

The proposal also calls for reducing the hours for watering. It's currently not allowed between 11am and 7pm. That would expand to 9am and 9pm. Brown says it's all to help deal with the drought.

Brown added, "Our underground water is dropping a bit, it's dropping at the rate of about 2 feet per year, so it's important that we conserve because now the farmers are going to be drawing from the underground aquifers as well."

The changes could be a challenge for some residents, but Robert Parker says he already takes similar steps to save water.

Parker explained, "I have my timer set to come on at 9:00 at night because that way it has time to saturate the soil and sink in before it evaporates."

The ordinance would also require any fundraising car washes to be held at car wash facilities with recycling capabilities -- to avoid excess water running down storm drains. Offenders who break any of the new rules would first get a courtesy letter, then a cease and desist notice, and eventually face fines starting at $50.00.

"Since I've been in my job here for three years, we've had very few fines because that courtesy letter generally corrects the situation," said Brown. "Most people simply don't know."

The ordinance must pass a second reading, and it would take effect 30 days after that.

Leah Brown says she and her staff will take several steps to educate residents about the changes if and when that happens.

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