Is a California school violating water rationing?

Videos recorded by an anonymous tipster show parts of a college campus in drought-plagued Northern California turned into a virtual marsh by overwatering.

In the first of the two videos provided to local ABC affiliate News10 earlier this week, the photographer pans across a lush and verdant greenspace on the campus of American River College in Sacramento, where most grass is brown and dormant due to an ongoing drought and the associated government-mandated restrictions on water use.

As the photographer walks across the field, which he described as “a large, large area of lawn and a few redwood trees off in the distance,” his shoes can even be heard squelching through standing water, suggesting that the area had been recently and extensively watered.

“I was shocked when later I saw a sign that said, 'Drought, yes. Sprinklers, no’,” the tipster told News10. “And it seemed contradictory.”

Under an executive order issued April 1 by Gov. Jerry Brown (D), all public water suppliers as well as “commercial, industrial, and institutional properties, such as campuses,” are required to reduce their potable water usage by 25 percent this year compared to their usage in 2013.

In an interview with News10, ARC spokesman Scott Crow said the video fails to tell the whole story, pointing out that most other lawns on the campus are withering from lack of water even though the school has its own well water.

“We're actually following the same kind of game plan that's being used by the other Los Rios Colleges, which is a 35 percent reduction goal," Crow said. "Outside of that, what we're doing is we're following a schedule of watering twice a week, is the general rule, for about 20 minutes.”

There are some exceptions to that general rule, “and a lot of those are going to be in areas where there are trees,” he added, explaining that, "There's a lot of older trees that are on campus, and we need to be mindful of the safety and security issues involved with the trees with limbs falling down if the trees don't get water."

The man who filmed the video, however, considers that explanation inadequate, noting that experts recommend using drip lines or soaker hoses to irrigate trees during a drought rather than conventional sprinklers.

That position is supported by the Sacramento Tree Foundation, which states on its website that for mature trees, “the best way to be proactive and conserve water is to position a soaker hose in a spiral pattern starting a few feet away from the trunk,” ideally while removing nearby grass and covering the hose with mulch to limit evaporation.

If sprinklers must be used, though, the Foundation advises placing an inch-high can beneath the tree, then leaving the sprinklers on until the can is filled. With either method, the foremost consideration should be ensuring that the soil is moist at a depth of 6 – 8 inches.

“Do not apply water at the base of your mature tree,” the Foundation advises. “This will not effectively provide water to the tree's roots.”

ARC told News10 that it is looking into more sophisticated watering techniques, but apparently has yet to implement them, as a subsequent video recorded by the same individual shows water from the school’s sprinkler system overflowing onto a nearby street.

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