California Drought: Water Board Considers 10 Percent Water Use Cut

Santa Clara County is undergoing its third dry year in a row.

Almaden Reservoir in Dec. 19, 2013. Courtesy SCVWD
Almaden Reservoir in Dec. 19, 2013. Courtesy SCVWD
—By Bay City News Service 

The Santa Clara Valley Water District should consider ways to reduce water consumption by 10 percent countywide in 2013 due a record-breaking dry period, according to the water utility's staff.

The county is undergoing its third dry year in a row and its 3.55 inches of rainfall in 2013 was the lowest level since in the county started measuring rain in the 1870s, water district spokesman Marty Grimes said.

The district's Board of Directors will consider the staff's proposal to set a 10 percent water reduction target during its meeting Tuesday at 6 p.m. in San Jose, Grimes said.

To meet the goal, the water district should double rebates paid to people who conserve water, promote water conservation laws in cities and use technology to convert the county's wastewater into drinkable water within five years, district staff said.

The board manages the county's water supply and its delivery, but only makes suggestions to cities, which have the legal authority to enforce restrictions on residents, Grimes said.

"The board can't force a city to do anything," Grimes said. "The (board) staff sets a preliminary water reduction target and the cities will implement their own plans."

Cities in the county responded to the board's last recommended 10 percent reduction during a drought in June 2007 and to a higher suggested cutback level of 15 percent in March 2009, Grimes said.

Municipalities enforced existing ordinances against wasting water, such as writing tickets for leaking sprinklers or hoses left running, to cut water use, Grimes said.

People and businesses successfully reduced countywide water usage by 17 percent from 2007 to 2009.

The water use restrictions expired in 2011, Grimes said. "Awareness is what really made the difference," Grimes said. On Jan. 17, Gov.

Brown declared a drought state of emergency, ordered the state Department of Water to expand the Save Our Water public information program and asked residents to reduce their water usage by 20 percent.

Santa Clara County entered 2014 with about 345,000 acre-feet of water, which is "well within the 'normal' range" of about 300,000 acre-feet, according to the water district.

But projections of groundwater for the end of 2014 show that if current dry or drier conditions continue, stored water could fall to the "alert" level of 250,000 to 300,000 acre-feet, the district reported.

The water district currently owns or manages 10 dams and reservoirs, 400 acres of groundwater recharge pools and 205 miles of creek, according to district staff.

The Marin County Board of Supervisors has invited administrators of local water agencies to meet at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday in San Rafael to discuss recommendations on measures to take if the current drought extends later this year.

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