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San Ramon’s Automated Irrigation Control System

Recognizing that water is a limited resource and a major utility expense, San Ramon has consistently taken a responsible approach to water management. In 1989, the City began installing the Calsense irrigation management system which has the ability to adjust watering automatically based on weather conditions and can be monitored though a centralized computer system by Public Services staff.  This allows staff to more precisely apply irrigation water.  The system detects changes in flow or other problems such as broken heads and sends alerts to the central computer on a daily basis. Staff then can make repairs or correct problems efficiently and quickly, often before it is noticed by others thus saving water that would otherwise unknowingly be going down the drain.  Today, the City has over 400 Calsense irrigation controllers in the field running through two centralized computer systems at the San Ramon Service Center.  One of the most important features of the Calsense system is the use of evapotranspiration  (ET) data.  ET is a measurement of the moisture in the soil that evaporates and water that plants transpire into the atmosphere (see Illustration 1). ET is measured by special gauges in the field. The ET information is shared with all of the controllers via the centralized control system. The controllers then automatically adjust the run times based on the ET data, thereby minimizing overwatering or under watering.   Another feature of the system is the reporting capabilities.  Staff can create water budgets based on ET, monitor use relative to the water budget and prepare informative reports, track water use and indicate any water savings realized by using the ET system.

Illustration 1

In addition to using a sophisticated irrigation control system the City has converted many parks and landscape areas to recycled water, greatly reducing the amount of potable water used for irrigation purposes.  Eventually, much more of the City’s existing landscaping will be converted to recycled water as it become available in the future.  To reduce water use in city facilities, staff installed low flow nozzles on many of the sinks as well as automatic shut off faucets and lower flow flush valves and toilets.

East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD)

On May 22, 2014, staff attended an EBMUD update meeting.  The discussion focused on current and projected water supply and infrastructure upgrades. EBMUD water supplies are currently adequate for the utilities 1.3 million customers in Contra Costa and Alameda Counties.  EBMUD’s main water supply was at around 56% of capacity as of late May, 2014.  In addition, EBMUD pumped supplemental water from the Sacramento River through the Freeport Project and water use agreement with Sacramento County.  EBMUD is not charging its customers extra for this supplemental water supply at this time.  Although EBMUD has indicated that there is not an immediate need for mandatory drought restrictions, they have asked consumers to cut back potable water use voluntarily by 10% to help conserve water. EBMUD reported that voluntary cut backs have resulted in an 11% decrease in overall consumption compared to water use during the same period in 2013.

In response to the emergency drought restrictions that were imposed by EBMUD during the last major drought in 2008/09, the City implemented drought management strategies and as a result reduced its overall water consumption between 2008 and 2013 by about 15%.  The City’s water management strategies implemented in 2008 remain largely in effect in the parks and landscapes. This has helped not only to save water but to help offset the cost of on-going annual water rate increases by EBMUD.  EBMUD potable water rates were increased 9.75% in the summer of 2013 and were recently increased another 9.5% on July 1, 2014.  As water rates continue to rise, further measures may be necessary in the future. This could have a visible impact on the parks and landscaping. For example, in some areas water use may be reduced by a determined percentage to help offset the cost of rising water rates which could result in noticeable stress to some of the landscape and fields. The City is prepared to prioritize areas of use as necessary should water costs become prohibitive or should drought restrictions be imposed again due to shortage of rain in the future.

Dublin San Ramon Services District (DSRSD)

On May 5, 2014, the San Ramon Dublin Services District Board (DSRSD) voted to enact a series of emergency drought actions.  On May 6, 2014, DSRSD posted a news release. Mandatory water use restrictions and rate increases went into effect for most DSRSD customers.  The District’s goal is to reduce overall potable water consumption by residential and commercial customers by a total of 25% overall.  To comply with the mandatory restrictions, outdoor potable water use must be cut by 50% and limited to one day a week during May and two days a week during June through September. Those that do not comply are subject to steep penalties in addition to the water use rate increases. 

DSRSD provides potable water to almost all residential properties in Dougherty Valley.  A few original neighborhoods in Dougherty Valley are serviced by EBMUD and are not affected by the DSRSD drought restrictions.  Fortunately, the majority of the City maintained parks and landscaping in the Dougherty Valley are serviced with recycled water provided by DSRSD and not currently subject to drought related use restrictions.  However, the City has eighteen potable water accounts (meters) with DSRSD which provide potable water to landscaping, mostly turf strips, and two neighborhood parks, Piccadilly Park and Compass Point Park in areas of Dougherty Valley where recycled water is not currently available. The City is currently complying with the drought restrictions in these areas serviced with potable water.   Staff met with DSRSD officials to discuss options and work towards a modified water use restriction exemption for those sites.  However, DSRSD indicated that no exceptions would be allowed and the City is expected to fully comply or face penalties.  In addition, a discussion about the impact of the drought restrictions and rates on the new participatory splash pad scheduled to open as a part of Rancho San Ramon Community Park late summer.  This is on potable, and is re-circulated and chemically treated to full swimming pool standards.  The irrigation for the turf and landscaping at the new park is recycled and is not subject to mandatory water use restrictions.

Aside from the properties in Dougherty Valley that receive potable water service from DSRSD, no other properties in San Ramon are impacted as they are served by EBMUD. 

California Department of Water Resources Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance

As of January 1, 2010, all California local agencies are required to adopt the California State Department of Water Resources Model Water Efficient landscape Ordinance (MWELO) or develop and adopt one that is at least as effective. The purpose of the MWELO is to establish a structure for designing, installing, maintaining and managing water efficient landscapes in new and rehabilitated projects.  The goals are to reduce water use to the lowest practical amount and set an upper limit that shall not be exceeded, to establish provisions for water management practices and water prevention for established landscapes, and to promote the values and benefits of landscapes while recognizing the need to use water and other resources efficiently.  Some of the notable requirements of the MWELO are:

  • Applies to all new landscape projects over 2500 square feet.
  • No more than 25% of new landscape can be turf.
  • Must use 80% native plants.
  • Irrigation design must identify hydrozones and use water budgets and must be approved by a certified irrigation designer.
  • The water budget must be 70% ET for new landscapes, 80% ET for established landscapes, and no more than 100% ET for special uses like sports fields and re-cycled water use.
  • Irrigation controllers must be self adjusting ET or moisture sensing type.

The City adopted and implemented the state MWELO requirements in 2010 with a goal of holding water use expenditures as flat as possible. This includes the following changes:

 Water Management Strategies Implemented 2010 and Beyond

  • Require developers to revise landscape designs to comply with the MWELO for all new landscape projects.
  • New landscape areas (installed after 1/1/2010) set to irrigate at 70% ET.
  • Existing landscape areas (installed before 1/1/2010) set to irrigate at 80% ET.
  • Special use areas, park turf, sports fields, etc. set to irrigate at 100% ET.
  • Reduce replacement planting – remove old unsightly plants and add mulch.
  • Identify high water use landscaping and consider making modifications to the landscape/irrigation design.
  • Identify lowest priority park and landscape areas for further water cuts if necessary. 

 

Water Management Strategies for 2014 and 2015

Irrigation Status
Reduce irrigation water for DSRSD potable water accounts by 50% to comply with mandatory drought restrictions. Includes turf strips and two parks in Dougherty Valley. Staff will monitor the parks and trees and truck in recycled water for supplemental watering if needed. Implemented
Study the possibility of replacing the turf strips irrigated with DSRSD potable water to low water and maintenance landscaping. Analyze the cost savings in water and maintenance to identify possible funding opportunities for converting the turf strips. In progress
Encourage/Negotiate with DSRSD to convert Piccadilly Park and Compass Point Park to recycled water. In progress
Reduce recycled water use in Dougherty Valley by 10% to reduce water cost. In progress
Comply with voluntary 10% cut back of EBMUD water by prioritizing park and landscape areas and further reducing water use in those areas that are identified as having the least impact on the community and City property value. Implemented
Reduce washing tennis court surfaces with water. Implemented
Minimize supplemental watering for “hot spots”. Use individual hose end sprinklers. Implemented
Reduce hours of operation for the Central Park Participatory Fountain by 3 hours a day. Implemented
Identify high water use turf and landscape areas to convert to low water use low maintenance areas. Coordinate with EBMUD and DSRSD for available incentive rebates. In progress – on-going
Keep Dougherty Valley Aquatic Center closed on Sundays during the summer. In progress
Emphasize continued conversion to recycled water. Research design options for converting Central Park to recycled water.   In progress
Consider conducting water audits in cooperation with EBMUD to identify possible irrigation equipment inefficiencies. In progress

For more information on the City’s drought management and water conservation efforts, please contact Karen McNamara, Public Services Director at 925-973-2800 or kmcnamara@sanramon.ca.gov

 

 
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