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Ask the PAC: Petaluma dinged for daytime watering amid drought

In the heat of the day, the wet drizzle of the sprinklers at Prince Park last week rang out like alarm bells for passersby.

Petaluma, like the rest of the North Bay and much of California, is in the midst of a devastating drought. Yet the Prince Park sprinklers were working full bore at 12:45 p.m. June 15.

With residents encouraged to water landscaping between 8 p.m. and 6 a.m., when there’s less water wasted to evaporation, why is the city seemingly flouting that guidance at its own facilities? That’s the subject of this week’s Ask the PAC.

Question: Why is the city using sprinklers in the middle of the day?

Answer: We sent Drew Halter, Petaluma’s deputy director of parks, pictures and video of the watering, most of which appeared to be concentrated on the infield dirt at Prince Park.

Halter said he suspects the watering was done prior to dragging - a raking process employed at most baseball fields to present a uniform and visually appealing surface for game play - in order to avoid kicking up dust during the procedure. The work was being done ahead of the Petaluma Girls Softball Association’s annual Father’s Day Tournament, which took place this past weekend.

Halter defended the timing of the use of water, too, saying it was recycled, non-potable water.

“Water conservation is certainly on the forefront of our minds and I can understand the concerns,” Halter said. “Fortunately, some of Petaluma's largest natural grass athletic fields have been outfitted with reclaimed water irrigation that does not have the restrictions in place that potable water does.”

But conservation experts make no such distinction when it comes to recommended watering times. That includes the Environmental Protection Agency, which advises against watering on hot and windy days, and encourages residents to water lawns and gardens in the late evening or early morning - and only when necessary.

“Water the lawn and garden in the morning or late evening to maximize the amount of water which reaches the plant roots (otherwise most of the water will evaporate),” according to guidance on the EPA’s website.

That is changing as we speak, said Ingrid Alverde, Petaluma’s director of economic development and open government. Alverde said the city is moving toward night watering at all parks, even as some continue day watering in support of specific activities.

The Petaluma City Council on Monday implemented mandatory water rationing measures, including night watering schedules for landscapes watered with potable water.

No such restrictions apply at city parks with non-potable water sources.

Currently, Wiseman, Arroyo, Prince, Leghorn, Eagle and Southgate parks are watered with non-potable water, Alverede said.

“We are always expanding the reach of our recycled water and are currently working with a contractor to activate the recycled water line in Maria Drive to bring on Bond, Gleenbrook, and Meadow parks,” Alverde added.

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