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February 11, 2009 > Dry times ahead could mean mandatory conservation is in our future

Dry times ahead could mean mandatory conservation is in our future

2009 has just begun, but so has the third year of California's drought. As a board member of the Santa Clara Valley Water District (Valley Water) I am aware of the impact another dry year can have on our water supply and as a lifelong resident I know the hard times that could lie ahead if things don't change.

The positive news is, despite a very bleak statewide picture and water shortages for many water agencies across the state, Valley Water is in comparatively good shape. This is because of our diversified water portfolio, made up of imported water and our local supplies, our extensive conservation efforts and our investment in recycling and groundwater banking programs.

Even though our current water supply levels are strong, we are still vulnerable to the effects of the drought. Lower rainfall levels impact our groundwater reserves and a snow pack that is only 61% of normal indicates that the runoff from the Sierra Nevada Mountains that we rely on may not meet our demands. These factors, when combined with the cutbacks to pumping from the Delta, indicate that we are in for dry times ahead. Depending on these many variables, Valley Water may be compelled to recommend mandatory conservation.

The extremely dry winter conditions so far this year following two consecutive dry years have led the board to request that staff develop a Water Shortage Contingency Plan (WSCP). This way, if dry weather persists through February, we will be prepared to implement a plan of action as early as March.

Staff has developed two scenarios based upon preliminary and limited analysis received from the state for State Water Project allocations, and forecasts based on historic data for local supplies. These two scenarios are "bookends" for average to worse-case conditions that we may experience in 2009. Scenario 1 represents the dry conditions to date, followed by median precipitation, or about 7 more inches of rain in San Jose, for the remainder of the season. Scenario 2 analyzes the dry conditions continuing for the remainder of the season, with downtown San Jose receiving only about another 4 inches of rain.

In March, staff will update the board on the water supply assessment for 2009 and make recommendations based upon the two different scenarios about actions to be taken in accordance with the WSCP.

Whether or not mandatory conservation will be implemented and how it will impact residents depend on a number of variables, including where you live. The board must vote to recommend mandatory conservation. The Water Commission would then have to adopt the vote and the cities and county would have to adopt enforceable ordinances. The water retail companies may also adopt similar water use restrictions and may even be given approval from the Public Utilities Commission to charge penalties for excessive water use.

While it is not yet clear what the future holds when it comes to mandatory conservation, the one thing that is certain is that the need to conserve water is now more important than ever. It is going to take a concerted effort by the County, the cities and residents alike to reduce water use. To learn how to use water wisely, Valley Water is encouraging everyone to take advantage of the numerous programs and rebates available that are designed to help you conserve water. To learn more, visit, or call (800) 548-1882.

As always, I am available for questions or comments as your District 3 representative for Sunnyvale, Alviso, Milpitas, Berryessa/Alum Rock communities, east of Highway 101 to the Evergreen community area. Feel free to contact me at (408) 234-7707.

Director Richard Santos
Santa Clara Valley Water District

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