Will we have enough water in 20 years? Is anyone considering the potential impacts of climate change on our water supply? How will we cope with the next long drought?

Tough questions and no easy answers, but there’s also no need to panic. In addition to managing the lion’s share of Santa Clara County’s current water supplies, the Santa Clara Valley Water District is continuously planning for our future water needs. We are currently in the midst of developing the next Water Supply Master Plan, which addresses the county’s water needs through 2040.

Part of this plan looks ahead at how our water needs and our water supply may change. The population is likely to grow, and climate changes are likely to alter the Sierra snowpack. Aging water infrastructure must be maintained and renewed. Droughts may be longer and more severe in the future.

Another part of the plan is determining the appropriate level of investment in future water supplies. You might think we should invest in enough water supplies to meet everyone’s water demands all the time. But when we are in an extended drought, it may be impossible—or at best, extremely costly—to provide all the water everyone might desire.

Instead, we all cut back on our demands when water is scarce. But how much should we cut back? It’s not hard to reduce water use by 10 percent. A 20 percent reduction is more of a challenge, but our community has proven over the last few years that a 20 percent cut in water use can be sustained. Thus, our board of directors recently decided that we will plan to meet 80 percent of demands during a multi-year drought.

So, how will we meet our future needs? We have done a deep analysis of dozens of water supply options. We’ve looked at costs, benefits, feasibility, and the risk that a potential water supply option won’t pan out.

Like any good money manager, we diversify our portfolio. Our future water supply portfolio will be made up of local supplies and imported supplies, groundwater, surface water and re-used water.

Importantly, water conservation, also known as demand reduction, is a major part of the plan. Maximizing water use efficiency with programs such as lawn replacement rebates is a cost-effective way of reducing future needs. When we reduce our demands, we don’t need to spend as much on other water supplies.

On Jan. 14, the board reaffirmed its commitment to a strategy developed in 2012 which we call “Ensure Sustainability.” In this strategy, we focus on investments that secure our existing supplies and infrastructure, we expand water conservation and reuse efforts, and we optimize our water infrastructure systems.

Securing our existing supplies includes a wide range of individual projects including retrofitting dams, pipeline maintenance, and maintaining our imported water supplies through the state’s California WaterFix project. We plan to expand the use of non-potable recycled water, and develop advanced purified water for potable reuse.

The strategy also includes a “No Regrets” package of water conservation programs. These are projects that most everyone can get behind. This package includes a graywater rebate program expansion, incentives for repairing leaks, model ordinances to require water efficiency in new developments, and stormwater capture programs.

Optimizing our system includes the expansion of Pacheco Reservoir near the southeast border of the county and increasing the capacity of groundwater recharge efforts in the South County.

The next planning steps include the development of an implementation schedule through 2040. We must keep our focus on the risks to each project and continue to refine our plans for each of them. The board will continue to evaluate all projects, changing circumstances, cost impacts and stakeholder input, making needed adjustments as we move forward.

We encourage you to learn more about this vital plan and give us your input. This spring, the public will have the opportunity to comment on a draft plan, with the goal of adopting a final plan in June. If you would like to be included in our stakeholder mailing list, send a request to mrichert@valleywater.org.

One comment

  1. How about promoting limits on growth? A growing population increases the fixed minimum demand, making the whole water supply more unreliable. Instead of telling the cities that the Water District will provide all the water they want, the District needs to inform the cities that with each new home or office they add they increase the danger to the water supply for the whole city. In order to supply water to a growing population new supplies must be secured since conservation is really not generating the savings promised. Those new supplies will be very expensive imported water, which everyone else wants, or desalinated water. It is really not fair to put these additional costs on current residents to the benefit of land developers and large corporations. The only real way to come close to achieving a sustainable water supply is to stop growing.

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