Water is the second largest item in the Livermore Area Recreation and Park District (LARPD) annual budget.
And as the state goes through its second consecutive year of drought, LARPD officials are closely monitoring how and where every gallon of water is used.
Compared to 2020, the district spent an additional $ 174,284 on water this calendar year through July – the last month for which full data is available. During the same period, LARPD used almost 27 million gallons of water more than last year.
âWater use is largely dependent on weather conditions,â said Fred Haldeman, LARPD Parks and Facilities Manager. âIf we have a long, hot, dry year, we’re going to use more water to irrigate. We cannot completely control how much we spend. We have an obligation to the community to keep our parks at a level where they can use them, especially during the pandemic (when) we saw three and four times as many people in our parks than usual. It is even more important that we maintain them. It’s always a challenge to try to follow that line of using as little as possible while keeping them at a relatively high level.
According to the US Drought Monitor, 88% of California is currently experiencing extreme or exceptional drought conditions. A year ago, only 3% of the state was classified this way. All of Alameda County is currently experiencing exceptional drought conditions.
With little rain in winter and early spring, and several unusual heat waves for the season, the district was forced to start irrigating earlier in the year. Water consumption in April, May and June greatly exceeded that of the previous year.
âThe most important thing we have seen is the gap in the spring,â said Jeffrey Schneider, director of administrative services at LARPD. âIt was just dry. It was a dry February. It was a dry March. Fred and his team must have watered more (in those months) than in previous years. This has been the biggest drawback in our trend of spending and using water.
As the district’s fiscal year ended at the end of June, the new year began with a different water challenge. Water use in July closely mirrored 2020, reversing the trend seen for the previous three months, but spending was still on the rise.
âJuly has been the most important month I have seen,â said Schneider. âIt was $ 263,000 in (water) spending. It’s still big in July, but that alone is $ 50,000 more than the highest July we’ve seen before. The problem is – right out of the chute – we are negative. We have a challenge. We are looking at this by location, by supplier. For us right now, we are watching it carefully. We are planning this. Fortunately, we have enough reserves in the budget of this year to take care of any negative deviations we see in the water.
Several factors complicate the district’s efforts to reduce water consumption. The extent of drought now threatens mature trees. As a result, some now have to be watered manually or the neighborhood may lose them. Ball fields should be kept at a higher level to avoid injury. Allowing sod to wilt and die for short-term water savings only contributes to long-term expense increases when that sod needs to be replaced.
In addition, the irrigation systems in the parks of the district are several decades old and have been designed to operate as efficiently as possible with a given water pressure. As development occurred in the areas surrounding the parks, the overall water pressure dropped, making the sprinkler heads less efficient. A plan to upgrade sprinkler systems throughout the district has been developed.
âI’m not a big fan of removing sod and replacing it with mulch,â said Haldeman. âI think it drastically reduces the feel of the park when you do that. Turf is very viable. You can do anything on it. When you lay a pile of mulch in the middle of a picnic area, it just becomes less user-friendly. I believe our best plan is to become as efficient as possible.