Amid California drought, Santa Clara County’s water conservation isn’t going well


One of the largest water districts in the San Francisco Bay area has fallen dramatically short of water conservation goals amid extreme drought conditions across California.

Santa Clara Valley Water declared a water shortage emergency in June and its reservoirs reached historically low levels, requiring customers to reduce water use by 15% compared to 2019 levels. In July, the district fell into the goal with residents only reducing water use levels by 6% compared to 2019 levels, according to newly available data first shared by San Jose Mercury News.

Santa Clara Valley Water, which has 10 reservoirs and approximately 5,000 wells serving 2 million customers, is a wholesaler, selling water to retailers in the region. The county depends on its reservoir, which has shrunk dramatically after two consecutive dry winters. It also gets more than half of its water from outside the region and these springs also dry up.

“In Santa Clara County, it’s going to be pretty macabre,” you say Gary Kremen, Water Valley vice chair vice and a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who founded Match.com and Clean Finance Power. “Our prices depend on where you are in the county, can start running dry … If we can’t get imported water in and it’s not looking like there’s a lot of water out there, it’s going to be gloomy.”

Noticing the need for people to conserve more water, he added, “I know we all have overload crises. This is serious. This is really serious. It’s not like Mark Zuckerberg can write some code and fix this problem.”

Stanford was the only retailer that met Valley Water’s goal, cutting water use by 15% compared to 2019 levels, while the cities of Santa Clara and Mountain View have reduced water use by only 2%.


Here’s a complete rundown on how much all the retailers who buy water in Santa Clara Valley reduce water use in July compared to 2019:

-City Santa Clara: 2%
-Mount View: 2%
-Gilroy: 3%
-Morgan Hill: 5%
-Pure Hills Water: 5%
-Sunnyvale: 6%
-San Jose Municipal Water: 6%
-San Jose Water Company: 6%
-Great Oaks: 6%
-California Water Services: 7%
-Milpitas: 8%
-High pole: 13%
-Stanford: 15%

While those numbers may seem daunting, Valley Water spokesman Matt Keller said things will be in the right direction when you look at where the county stood in March when usage was up 25% compared to 2019 levels.

Keller said: “We knew it would take a while (a few months) to reach that 15% target as our retailers put their unforeseen water shortage plans in place.” “What we’ve seen so far has been positive, with no increase in water or tray use.”

The creamy water board added, “I was hoping for more, but I’m not surprised. Why? Because it takes time for people to tear up their lawns. It’s not instantaneous.”

Santa Clara has launched several conservation programs, and Keller said that interest in them is promising and that in August, Valley Water received 360 applications for the landscape reimbursement program, 965 orders for water-efficient appliances from its website (a high record) and 230 wastewater reports.

The 10 Santa Clara Valley Water Reservoir had more than 85% combined capacity in April 2017 after a wet winter replenish supply. In early September 2021, the reservoirs of 12.2% in capacity.

To aggravate the problem, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has ordered the district to drain the Anderson Reservoir (pictured at the top of this article), the county’s largest reservoir, for public safety. The reservoir is expected to be out of use for 10 years as the district completes a seismic renovation.

Reservoirs across the state are at historically low levels, and this also has an impact on Santa Clara Valley water, which typically imports more than half of its water into the county.

Oroville, the state’s second largest reservoir and a landmark in the State Water Project that stores and delivers water across California, is in 22% in capacity. Santa Clara Valley Water has an annual allotment of 100,000 acre-feet from the State Water Project, and while the district rarely receives its full allotment, this year it will only get 5,000 acre-feet, Keller said.

The San Luis Reservoir, part of the Federal Central Water Valley Project, is in 13% in capacity. The district’s allocation of 152,000 acre-feet of the project was cut in May from an initial 55% to 25% of that amount for manufacturing and industrial purposes and zero percent for agriculture.

Keller said Valley Water requires more water for public health and safety through the Central Valley Water Project. “Based on the calculation method our 25% allocation claim is 43,122 acre-feet,” Keller wrote in an email. “We will also receive, contingent on the ability to transport the water and environmental regulations, a public health and safety increment of 28,378 acre-feet.”

With low reservoirs and dramatically reduced allocations, Kremen said, “Santa Clara County including the cities of San Jose, Santa Clara and Palo Alto are probably the worst parts of the state [in terms of water] other than way far north of California because of our low storage. “

While Valley Water has taken a major step in calling on residents to reduce water use in June, measures may become more drastic in the coming months for some customers.

Valley Water’s largest retailer is San Jose Water, a private utility with 1 million customers. He filed a proposal for a plan with state regulators that would require customers to reduce monthly water use by 15% by 2019 and pay $ 7.14 in surcharges per unit of water used above that amount.

San Jose Water spokeswoman Liann Walborsky said the surcharge will only apply if it is approved and if water use still does not meet targets after all steps to encourage customers to conserve are spent.

“It’s not a decision we take lightly,” said Walborsky, noting that the utility will assess the situation in the coming weeks.

Kremen said people across the county need to take more steps to reduce water use. He said: “We really have to keep up.” “Tear off your lawn, stop washing your car … I know people don’t like that. It’s definitely not fun.”

Giving the dating site Match.com he founded in 1993 a nod, he added, “You have to mix dating and water conservation. Find someone to take a shower with.”

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