Santa Clara County water district considers declaring water shortage emergency

Bay Area

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (BCN) – Santa Clara County’s water district may declare a water shortage emergency and urge the county to do the same. 

On Wednesday, Santa Clara County Valley Water will consider declaring emergency status, as well as implement a recommendation for 15 percent water reduction for all county residents. 

The reason the water district is voting to encourage the county to declare a local state of emergency is because “a couple horrible things are happening all at this same time,” Valley Water Director Gary Kremen said. 

The first is that the Anderson Dam, the county’s primary water storage equal to all the other reservoirs in the county combined, is at 3 percent capacity “so it’s 90 percent empty,” Kremen said.

He also said the county is having a hard time buying water on the open market. Santa Clara County buys and imports about half of its water. 

“Everyone else is buying it at the same time, so… prices are about 10 times what it was two years ago,” Kremen said. 

On top of that, Santa Clara County has not received its typical water allocation. 

Kremen said the county only received 5 percent of its expected allocation from the state and nothing from the federal government’s water allocation for agriculture. In terms of water for municipal and industrial usage, the county was expecting 55 percent of its typical allocation, but that was recently cut to 25 percent, Kremen said.

But it’s worth noting that while Valley Water can recommend residents cut water usage by a certain percent, which it has done almost every year in the last decade, it has no legal authority to enforce it. 

This means that any fines or mandatory restrictions would have to come from the city or county. 

Kremen said the water district has been working with cities and the county to come up with an enforcement situation but maintained that Valley Water relies on incentives instead of punitive measures to have residents comply with water cutbacks.  

Those incentives look like rebates for grass removal, inspections of businesses and homes to find leaks or other water conservation solutions, and many other incentives listed on their website. 

Kremen said that Valley Water isn’t asking residents to cut back on health and safety water usage like showers and cooking, but instead on nonessential water usage like landscaping. 

“You know, water for bathing, water for cooking is around 50 gallons per person per day,” Kremen said. “No one’s asking anyone to go below that.” 

Santa Clara County may be able to survive this summer with relatively healthy groundwater levels, but Kremen worries that without cutbacks, the county may be in an even more calamitous situation next year. 

“Here’s the analogy that I’d like you to think about,” Kremen said. “We’re in a plane right now and the engines have stopped. Is it better to kind of declare an emergency when you’re at 24,000 feet, that’s where we are from our normal cruising altitude of 30,000 or at 1,000 feet?”

Currently, the county’s groundwater levels are at 24,000 feet and healthy non-drought levels would be 30,000. 

“We can see where next year could be next year and we want to be sure there’s something left in the groundwater, some carryover water for next year,” he said. 

The Valley Water board will vote on a 15 percent reduction suggestion at their Wednesday meeting, but Kremen said it is up to the board to decide if that percentage should be higher or lower or not implemented at all. 

The suggestion for 15 percent cutbacks came from the staff at Valley Water, who said without conservation efforts, the county could be in emergency drought situation (stage 5) by 2022, according to a recent water supply scenario report. 

Even with conservation efforts, the county could still reach Stage 3, severe drought, of its water shortage contingency plan. 

Right now, the county is at Stage 1, which is normal, but is close to Stage 2 which is considered an ‘alert stage.’

However, Kremen said he also hopes Gov. Gavin Newsom will declare that Santa Clara County is in a drought. 

According to the federal government’s drought information system, Santa Clara County is already in extreme drought. 

This means that not only is soil dry and pasture growth is stunted, but the county is threatened by wildfires year-round; water is inadequate for agriculture, wildlife, and urban needs; and reservoirs are extremely low. 

If the governor declares a drought in the county that would help with creative financing and additional funding to create larger water conservation programs, Kremen said. 

“No one has made the 15 percent decision, I know I haven’t,” Kremen said. “I need to hear what the public has to say. 

The meeting will start at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, June 9. Residents can access the meeting and make public comment at the virtual meeting via Zoom at https://valleywater.zoom.us/j/87957609335 or by calling 1 (669) 900-9128 (code: 87957609335#).

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