“The good news is that knowledge can lead to change. Parts of California’s Santa Clara Valley sank 13 feet in the first half of the 20th Century, but smart policies – diversifying water supplies and allowing the aquifer to recharge – stopped subsidence in its tracks.”
Right beneath our feet lie the county’s largest reservoirs where almost half of the water we use comes from. Stored in natural aquifers, or underground water banks, groundwater is an essential source of our local water supply. During years with low precipitation, we turn to groundwater and imported water (from state and federally managed reservoirs) to meet our county’s demands.
However, there are serious consequences for pumping too much groundwater, such as land subsidence (sinking). In fact the water district was formed in 1929 as the Santa Clara Valley Water Conservation District to recharge the groundwater basins with water to counterbalance pumping, maintain the supply of groundwater and prevent land subsidence.
Today, there are over 5,000 wells owned and operated by farmers, homeowners, cities and large private water retailers that pump water from underground aquifers monitored and replenished by the Santa Clara Valley Water District. With below average precipitation during this historic drought we’ve had to rely on groundwater and imported water to meet our county’s needs. The historic drought has resulted in additional expenditures to secure supplemental imported water supplies necessary to reduce the drought’s impact on local groundwater supplies. To maintain healthy groundwater reserves and continue providing a reliable water supply, a modest level of water rate increases were needed.
The water district board of directors adopted water rate increases for fiscal year 2016-17 at the May 10, 2016 board meeting.
On July 1, 2016, the rates well owners pay for using groundwater will increase for an average monthly household by about $1.27, or 4 cents per day in South County, and about $6.13, or 20 cents a day, in North County. Most county residents don’t pay these water charges directly to the water district; instead they pay their local water retailers, which also may have rate increases of their own.
As the Santa Clara County’s primary water wholesaler, the water district strives to make sure there is enough clean, safe water to sustain the region’s economic vitality and quality of life. Water charges pay for the infrastructure and services required to deliver clean, safe drinking water to Silicon Valley residents and businesses.
The water district has a complicated network of pipe systems and operations to transport our water treat it and deliver it to the homes and businesses in our county. It’s important to ensure that our facilities are properly maintained and managed to continue providing a reliable water supply. After four years of drought, a “Godzilla” El Niño brought some relief, but we are still facing depleted groundwater supplies. As the drought continues, we know we cannot count on external circumstances to secure our water supplies.
To that point, the water district is planning to invest over $1.4 billion over the next five years for repair and rehabilitation of aging dams, treatment plants, pipelines, pump stations and recharge ponds. In addition, over 40 percent of that investment is for the development of future purified water supplies that will be needed to accommodate the local economy and population.
With an arid climate and a thriving economy, we need to invest in our resources to secure our future. Over a third of revenue from water charges is used to both operate and maintain, as well as repair and improve our facilities. In order to continue providing clean, safe drinking water our decades-old infrastructure must be modernized and kept up-to-date. For example, the Rinconada Water Treatment Plant is undergoing a five-part modernization project. The almost 50-year-old facility is nearing the end of its useful life and requires upgrades. The improvements will help increase the amount of drinking water treated from 80 million gallons a day to 100.
The Santa Clara Valley Water District is the primary water resource agency for Santa Clara County, supplying wholesale water, providing flood protection and serving as environmental steward for clean, safe creeks and healthy ecosystems. It serves approximately two million people in 15 cities. To continue serving the county, water rate increases are a fundamental part of our long-range planning to ensure adequate supplies and infrastructure.