“Water cops” Likely This Summer as Santa Clara County Misses Drought Goal by Large Margin

If you waste water in Santa Clara County, water cops could soon be on the way.

Since last summer, Santa Clara County residents have been asked to cut water use by 15% from 2019 levels to conserve as the state’s drought worsens. But they continue to miss that target — and by a growing amount.

In March, the county’s 2 million residents not only failed to conserve any water, but they increased use by 30% compared to March 2019, according to newly released data.

Now, faced with the alarming prospect of water shortages, the Santa Clara Valley Water District — a government agency and the county’s largest water provider — is proposing to hire water enforcement officials to issue fines of up to $500 for residents watering so much that it runs into the street or watering lawns too many times a week or wasting water in other ways.

Not all details have been worked out. The water district’s board is expected to discuss the enforcement plan Tuesday and vote on a detailed ordinance on May 24 at its meeting in San Jose. If the crackdown goes forward as expected, it will be the first time in the agency’s history it has taken such a step.

“These trends are alarming. We are in a serious drought emergency,” said Aaron Baker, a chief operating officer of the water district, on Monday. “We are looking to take additional actions to help us meet the goals.”

California has had three years in a row of below-normal rainfall. Overall, 95% of the state is now in a severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a weekly federal report. That level is similar to 2014 when the state was in the depths of its last drought, an emergency that began in 2012 and finally ended in 2017 with heavy winter rains.

But this time, Santa Clara County is in a more severe predicament than many other parts of Northern California and the Bay Area. Federal dam regulators in 2020 ordered the district’s largest reservoir, Anderson, near Morgan Hill, drained for earthquake repairs. The $1.2 billion job, which involves constructing a huge new outlet tunnel and essentially tearing down and rebuilding the 235-foot high earthen dam, has been plagued by delays and cost overruns and is not scheduled to be finished until 2030.

On Monday, all 10 of the district’s reservoirs were just 24% full. The agency has also been told it will receive little water from state and federal suppliers. It has been spending millions to buy water from Central Valley farmers with senior water rights and also has been pumping groundwater to make up the difference.

But this year, water sales are more scarce. And district projections show that without more conservation, groundwater could drop to dangerously low levels next year in Santa Clara County if the drought continues into 2023. That could cause subsidence, a condition where the ground sinks in some places, potentially breaking roads, building foundations, water lines and gas lines.

“We are looking to end the year at adequate groundwater levels,” Baker said. “But if we are unable to meet the call for conservation, groundwater levels will be below our subsidence levels, and wells will go dry in South County.”

Since last June, when the district declared a drought emergency and asked residents to cut water use 15% from 2019 levels, through March, the total cumulative savings has been only 3%.

Water use in Santa Clara County increased 30% in March 2022 from March 2019 levels -- missing a goal of 15% water conservation by a large amount. Cumulative water savings from June 2021 to March 2022 was just 3% compared with 2019 levels. (Source: Santa Clara Valley Water District)
Water use in Santa Clara County increased 30% in March 2022 from March 2019 levels — missing a goal of 15% water conservation by a large amount. Cumulative water savings from June 2021 to March 2022 was just 3% compared with 2019 levels. (Source: Santa Clara Valley Water District) 

The water district has asked the public to water landscaping no more than 2 days a week. Most of the cities in Santa Clara County have passed local ordinances requiring that. But some, such as Milpitas and Sunnyvale, still allow 3 days a week. Several others — Palo Alto, Mountain View and Stanford University — have put no limits in place on weekly watering.

More significant, cities and private water companies that have limited watering to 2 days a week have not enforced the rules.

“Fines aren’t the only thing we need to be doing, but they are an important component of a drought strategy,” said Heather Cooley, director of research at the Pacific Institute, an Oakland non-profit that studies water issues.

“There are individuals who may not respond to conservation requests,” she said. “And if people are allowed to waste water, that makes other people feel like ‘I’m not going to save because that person isn’t.’ It creates a culture of ignoring the requests.”

The Santa Clara Valley Water District already asks people to report if residents are watering lawns so much that water runs into the street or watering more than twice a week. They can call the district at 408-630-2000 or email [email protected] and the district sends a letter or puts out a door hanger asking the water waster to conserve. But until now, the district has not taken the additional step of issuing fines for repeat violators.

Data from the water district shows that many of the wealthiest areas are using the most water — much of it to water lawns during January, February and March, which were the driest three months to start any year in Northern California since 1849.

Click here to read the full article at the Mercury News

Comments

  1. Stan Sexton says

    But we must build millions of new apartment units and let in 8,000 new occupants through the border everyday because they use no water.

  2. LOL….Stan states it so well!!!

  3. Margaret Wolfe says

    It would make more sense to me, and maybe the general public, if the Governor did not propose taking out dams with no replacement for water storage, if he would have accepted the Federal Government offer to raise Shasta Dams height for increased capacity and letting water flow out through the delta to the bay that could be diverted to our farmers and to storage. I personally have exceeded the saving of my homes water use requested and will continue to do so because we, as a culture in Santa Clara County, use highly processed, expensive potable water for landscaping and washing cars, which I find ridiculous. There is a disconnect. Maybe only a stiff fine will get the attention of the wasters, but if the wealthy are the biggest offenders then a $500 fine will not get their attention.
    And yes Stan, the “illegals” being courted and being given massive funding from legal and tax paying citizens are an offense to fair minded people.

  4. Closing ALL the golf courses would be a step in the right direction!

  5. Tracker 1 says

    It sounds like the all talk and no action process will continue. Something like low income or abuse of a particular racial group will stop much of the restrictions from being enforced. Then what?? It will become rob those with water to provide for those that choose not to follow the rules. The end result is likely a significant lack of water for all in the state. That reminds one of the government involvement in the antifa disaster. Logic would seem to say that we need to go after those that abuse the restrictions???

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