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Water news

Modified: Monday, Mar 15th, 2010

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of regular informational updates on Paso Robles water resource issues. The intent of the series is to keep the community informed on topics such as water supply availability, water conservation programs, wastewater treatment and stormwater runoff as well as pollution prevention programs. The Paso Robles Press recently had the chance to catch up with Christopher Alakel, P.E., the city’s water manager, for a question-and-answer session to highlight some of the issues facing the city’s water supply.

Q: Will the city of Paso Robles be requiring residents to limit outdoor watering to three days per week again this summer?

Alakel: Yes. The city will again be requiring all water users to abide by the same three-day watering schedule in place last summer. Information on watering zones and schedules will be provided to all customers as a reminder prior to May 1 when the mandatory schedule takes effect.

The city of Paso Robles now depends entirely on groundwater for its water supply. Although this year’s abundant rain has improved water levels in city wells located in the Salinas River corridor, many of the city’s deeper “basin” wells have not seen significant improvement in water levels and water production rates. These wells now pump only 60 to 70 percent of the amount of water they were once capable of producing. Collectively, the city’s 18 active wells can produce only about 80 percent of the peak summer water demand without watering restrictions in place. Last summer, the watering restrictions and combined the voluntary reductions made by most city water users resulted in a 20 percent reduction in peak summer water usage, enabling the city to avoid water shortages.

Q: When you say “water supply shortage,” what does that mean?

Alakel: For Paso Robles, a water supply shortage would mean that well production cannot keep up with demand. Over a few days time, the city’s water tanks could become depleted to the point where adequate water supplies are not available to fight fires and maintain adequate pressure in the water system. Last summer was the first time in several years that the real threat of a shortage was eliminated through the community’s water conservation efforts.

Q: Besides simply limiting outdoor watering in the summer, what other water conservation programs is the city making available to the community?

Alakel: Reducing water use in the community will play a key role in providing a reliable and sustainable water supply into the future. To reduce overall residential and commercial water use over the long-term, the city has implemented several programs. Information and outreach to promote the shift from turf landscaping to Mediterranean plants that require much less water in the summer is a key effort. Workshops to teach customers how to make this shift in landscaping and efficient irrigation techniques are being provided, along with informational brochures and plant lists. A DVD of the last workshop held is available in the library and from the city’s water conservation office (call 227-7250). To promote climate-appropriate landscapes in new developments, the city recently adopted an ordinance that limits turf in new residential and commercial properties and in street rights-of-way.

Q: Are conservation rebates and incentives now available?

Alakel: Yes. Paso Robles water customers may now be eligible for a rebate of up to $125 toward the replacement of older high-use toilets with high efficiency 1.28 gallon/flush toilets. Rebates of 50 cents per square foot of turf replaced with low-water use plants on drip irrigation (up to $500) are now available. In addition, the city now provides free in-home water surveys to help residents reduce water use and monthly water bills. Staff will inventory water use at showers and faucets and install low-flow showerheads and faucet aerators if needed. Toilets are inspected for leaks and flapper valves replaced if leaking. Finally, irrigation systems are inspected and recommendations for improvements and irrigation schedules are provided. Information on these programs can be downloaded at pasowater.com or can be obtained by calling 227-7250.

Q: What are the key components of the City’s strategy for providing a sustainable water supply for the future?

Alakel: When we plan for a sustainable supply, we are talking about providing a reliable supply for current residents and for the future of Paso Robles. Two key components of the city’s plan for providing a reliable and high quality water supply is use of the city’s the Lake Nacimiento water allocation and reducing residential and commercial water use through conservation. The third additional supply planned for implementation about 15 years out is the recycling of our treated wastewater for irrigation use. These efforts will allow Paso Robles to significantly reduce its dependence on the area’s groundwater supplies. Reducing our use of groundwater will reduce demands on the aquifer and help reduce groundwater level decline rates in the immediate Paso Robles area.

Q: Why is the city making it such a high priority to reduce reliance on the groundwater basin for water supplies?

Alakel: Several water supply and demand studies of the Paso Robles groundwater basin indicate that annual pumping by all water users in the basin is very near or equal to the perennial yield of the basin. That means the basin cannot support additional groundwater pumping without experiencing widespread water level declines in the future. Closer to home, in and around Paso Robles (called the Estrella sub-area of the basin), a concentration of pumping by public and private well owners has resulted in sustained water level declines since 1998. While we experienced a few dry years in row, the 12-year average annual rainfall has been normal. This suggests that groundwater level declines in the area can be expected to continue into the future if pumping stays at current levels. This is the driving force behind the need for water conservation efforts, shifting to the Lake Nacimiento water supply and decreasing our dependence on the groundwater basin.

Q: You mentioned several studies have been conducted...

For the complete article see the 03-16-2010 issue.

Click here to purchase an electronic version of the 03-16-2010 paper.

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