Water consumption drops significantly in Santa Clara County; drought goals achieved by increased conservation

After months of missing water conservation targets as California’s drought worsened, Santa Clara County’s 2 million residents appear to have turned the corner and are now making significant progress, largely restoring the sprinklers they irrigate. their meadows and other landscapes.

Santa Clara County residents reduced water use by 16% in July from July 2019 levels, according to new numbers released Tuesday, surpassing the 15% target set by the area’s largest water supplier, the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

“Santa Clara County residents and businesses have done an excellent job,” said Aaron Baker, Water District Chief Operating Officer. “This came from a lot of hard work. We appreciate it very much ”.

July was the first month of 2022 that water use in Santa Clara County exceeded the conservation target. In June, water consumption decreased by only 9% compared to June 2019 and in May it was only 2% lower than in May 2019. In the previous four exceptionally dry months, residents used up to 30% more than at Levels 2019.

Baker noted that even with July’s staggering numbers, cumulatively, Santa Clara County residents have reduced water use by only 4% since June 2021, when the Water District declared a drought emergency and called for a cut of 15%.

“We don’t know when this drought will end,” Baker said. “We are continuing to work to improve the numbers”.

Overall, 14 of the 15 cities in Santa Clara County have now passed ordinances limiting lawn irrigation to no more than two days a week in an effort to conserve water. Only Milpitas still grants three days a week.

With outdoor irrigation accounting for about 50 percent of California’s summer water use, water district officials say the massive effort to turn lawns brown is now saving millions of gallons of water.

The district used part of the savings, along with emergency supplies purchased by Sacramento Valley farmers and other water agencies, to increase recharge rates for underground aquifers. By the end of this year, the rate will be 97% of the 20-year average, which helps to raise groundwater levels and accumulate more for years to come.

On Tuesday afternoon, the district council unanimously voted to approve new rules banning commercial and industrial properties, including homeowners’ associations, from watering “non-functional lawns” even one day a week.

The rules do not prohibit watering trees or grass used for recreational activities or community events, such as sports fields, golf courses, or school hangouts. They apply to ornamental lawns in office parks, private companies and community institutions, such as churches, hospitals and courts, using potable water.

On June 10, the Newsom administration enforced such rules statewide, with fines of up to $ 500 for offenders. But it is up to each city and local water district to enforce them.

Violators will initially receive warning letters based on the water district policy. Earlier this year, the water district put in place similar rules that allow residents to report water being wasted by other homeowners. Now they attract hundreds of calls a month to a hotline (408-630-2000). Fines don’t begin until after the third violation, and none have yet been issued, water district officials said Tuesday.

One of South Bay’s largest business organizations, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, said Tuesday it had not taken a stand on the new ordinance. But conservation and increased supply are important, the organization said.

“Addressing our ongoing drought crisis and ensuring Silicon Valley has the water it needs to continue being an innovation hub is a top priority for companies in the region,” said Mary Holing, vice president of environment for the group. “We have no time to waste”.

Some homeowners have updated sprinkler systems.

Richard McCaw, a resident of San Jose, said he used the district’s rebate programs to install nearly $ 500 of new high-tech equipment, including a new irrigation system controller and new valves on four taps that he uses, almost free of charge. to run drip irrigation lines to tomatoes, herbs and other plants in his yard.

The system, which he can control from an app on his phone, automatically adjusts the watering based on the weather forecast. Its water consumption decreased by 16.3% this summer compared to last year.

“All I had to pay was the taxes,” he said Tuesday. “It makes a big difference. If the weather is cool, it decreases, or if it rains, it delays irrigation. I even adjusted it when I was on vacation in Alaska.

After three consecutive drought years, 97% of the state is now in severe drought, with 40% in extreme drought, mostly in the Central Valley, according to the US Drought Monitor, a weekly federal report.

But unlike the last drought from 2012 to 2016, Santa Clara County is in a more dire situation than many other parts of the state. Federal dam regulators in 2020 ordered the draining of the district’s largest reservoir, Anderson, near Morgan Hill, for earthquake repairs. The $ 1.2 billion job, which involves the construction of a huge new outlet tunnel and essentially the demolition and reconstruction of the 235-foot-high dirt dam, is not expected to be completed until 2030.

On Tuesday, the district’s 10 reservoirs were only 19 percent full. In addition to conservation efforts, the district has spent $ 21 million to purchase approximately 28,000 acre feet of water from outside agencies. In addition, state and federal agencies have provided it with 78,000 acre feet of water for “human health and safety” above the low levels originally granted due to the drought.

“We need to be prepared for another dry winter,” Baker said. “We are in a multi-year drought. It will take a significant amount of rain and snow to get us out. We still have a big obstacle to overcome ”.

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