Based on local conditions, the drought is not over
This past winter was close to normal and has eased, but has not ended, four years of drought.
Because of that, the Santa Clara Valley Water District Board of Directors lowered its water use reduction target to 20 percent over 2013 levels at its June 14 meeting, but emphasized that residents should continue their efforts to conserve.
The board also called for local water providers to continue to institute mandatory measures, as needed, to reach the 20 percent target, and called for restrictions on watering schedules to a maximum of three times a week, up from the two day a week schedule most areas of the county have had in place since the spring of 2015.
- The watering schedule is: Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays if your address is an odd number and Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays if your address is an even number
Previously, the board had called for a 30 percent reduction in water use over 2013 levels, and residents and businesses throughout the county stepped up, saving 27 percent in 2015.
“I do really appreciate, and I’m sure the rest of the board does as well, how wonderfully the community has stepped up to meet our request for conservation. We have really had an outstanding response,” Board Chair Barbara Keegan said. “However, we are still in a drought. We don’t know if next year is going to be another dry year. Four years of drought is not erased by one year of decent rain.”
Comments of Board Chair Barbara Keegan
While we don’t know whether this next year will be dry, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is predicting a 75 percent chance of La Niña, a dry fall and winter weather pattern that can prevent storms from delivering much-needed snow and rain.
Despite outward appearances with brimming reservoirs and percolation ponds, our groundwater levels have not recovered and are not expected to recover fully by the end of the year.
Why are our groundwater levels so important?
Groundwater is an important part of our water portfolio. In an average year, 55 percent of our water in Santa Clara County is imported; 40 percent comes from local sources such as rainfall and storm runoff into our reservoirs; and the remaining 5 percent is accounted for through recycling. Those numbers fluctuate from year-to-year and depending on conditions, but one thing remains stable: our groundwater aquifers are our largest source of water storage in Santa Clara County, helping to get us through dry summers and droughts. Our aquifers hold more water than all 10 of our surface reservoirs combined.
Most of the water we import is used to refill those aquifers, which is important if we want to avoid subsidence. Subsidence happens when we draw too much water out of the land, causing the elevation of the land to sink. It can result in costly damage to underground utilities, to roads, bridges, foundations and more. It can also result in the permanent loss of underground water storage, making it more difficult to get through dry times.
How does our groundwater look now?
In our third and fourth years of drought, 2014 and 2015, we pulled more than 100,000 acre-feet of water out of our aquifers to help us through it. An acre-foot is enough water to supply a family of five for a year. We ended 2015 with 232,000 acre-feet in our aquifers, putting us in Stage 3: Severe. Above 300,000 is normal, and in 2013 we had 340,000 to 350,000 acre-feet in them. While 232,000 acre-feet is still a lot of water, drawing too much out can have dire consequences for our infrastructure, water storage and future ability to meet demand.
NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED that the Board of Directors of the Santa Clara Valley Water District calls for a water use reduction target equal to 20 percent of 2013 water use and a restriction on outdoor watering of ornamental landscapes or lawns with potable water to a maximum of three days a week (odd numbered and no addresses may water on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays; even numbered addresses may water on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays) through January 31, 2017, effective July 1, 2016, and it is further recommended that retail water agencies, local municipalities and the County of Santa Clara continue to implement mandatory measures as needed to achieve the 20 percent water use reduction target.
The water district offers a variety of programs and rebates to help residents and businesses save water in the long term, including a popular landscape rebate program and a free home water audit program called Water Wise House Calls.