We must act now and conserve water during drought emergency

By Chair Tony Estremera, representative for District 6

Santa Clara County is in an extreme drought. This rainfall season was the driest since 1977. When combined with the 2019-20 rainfall season, it will mark the second driest two-year combination on record. 

There is no way of knowing when this drought will end. The last drought lasted five years, so we must anticipate this one will extend into 2022.

That’s why we must all act now and conserve water.

On June 9, 2021, my fellow Board Members and I declared a water shortage emergency condition in Santa Clara County. This action allows Valley Water to work with our retailers, cities and the county to implement regulations and restrictions on the delivery and use of water.

On June 22, 2021, the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and executive leadership followed suit and proclaimed a local emergency related to the extreme drought conditions.

It is critical that we increase our water conservation efforts to protect local water supplies and guard against over-pumping groundwater, which increases the risk of subsidence and domestic wells going dry.

This is a serious emergency for our communities, especially if the drought extends into next year. That’s why my fellow Board Members and I also called for mandatory water use restrictions.       

Santa Clara County is dependent on imported water with at least half our water supply coming from the Delta Watershed. During critically dry years, like this year, it is significantly higher.  

Unfortunately, that water is scarce this year. By mid-May, snowpack in the Sierra Nevada dropped to historic low levels with little to no runoff to fill the state’s reservoirs.

These extremely dry conditions resulted in drastic reductions in Valley Water’s share of imported water.

Further challenging our local water supply, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered Anderson Reservoir to be drained for public safety as we strengthen the dam. This means the largest water supply reservoir in Santa Clara County is out of service while we perform this critical work.

Valley Water is responding by working on withdrawing previously stored water supplies from its out-of-county groundwater bank near Bakersfield and purchasing emergency water supplies from our partners. But these supplies are not guaranteed.

If our communities continue to use water at current rates, we will find ourselves in a dire situation in 2022. But if we achieve the water use reductions that we have called for, the water supply outlook will dramatically improve.

We are asking our communities to please look at your water-using habits and find ways to save. Some easy steps include:

  • Taking shorter showers with a water-efficient showerhead
  • Doing full loads of laundry or dishes
  • Turning off the faucet when brushing your teeth or shaving
  • Reducing outdoor watering of ornamental plants

Valley Water is here to help our communities conserve even more by offering rebates and free devices to get their homes, yards and businesses drought ready.

On average, more than 50% of water use in the average home takes place outdoors. Replacing your lawn with a water-efficient landscape can reduce your usage significantly. Our Landscape Rebate Program can help make the change. 

For more ways Valley Water can help you save water, please visit watersavings.org.

Our community responded to our calls for water conservation in the past, and we are thankful for those efforts. However, we need our communities to engage with us again and find ways to reduce their water use.

A reliable supply of safe, clean water is crucial for public health and the economy. By working together, we will get through this drought emergency.


  1. I have read for many years that California farmers use 90% of the total available water, while paying only 10% of the cost. City residents use only 10%, but pay for 90% of the cost. And further more, farmers resist using more efficient watering systems. Why do city dwellers have to bear the brunt of a drought? And farmers are growing crops that use an inordinate amount of water, ie almonds, which mostly have markets outside of California. Cities should not have to subsidize exported crops.

    What gives with that?


    1. Thank you for your inquiry and interest.

      While agriculture is a large water user in many parts of California, within Santa Clara County specifically, it makes up only about 8% of water usage. Water conservation is essential in all sectors, so Valley Water actively engages the agricultural community and offers technical services to growers to improve irrigation efficiency. Additionally, Valley Water is currently conducting an Agricultural Water Use Baseline Study to better understand current agricultural water use practices and identify opportunities to expand agricultural water conservation programs.

      As residential, business and ornamental landscape water usage accounts for over 90% of water usage in our county, Valley Water also focuses heavily on water conservation in these sectors. At WaterSavings.org, you can find information about our popular Landscape Rebate Program offered to both residents and businesses, as well as our Water Efficient Technologies rebate, which encourages businesses to find new and innovative ways to save water.

      Valley Water’s primary funding source for our activities to manage water supplies are charges imposed on groundwater and other water users. Within the areas that benefit from our activities, all groundwater pumpers (including agricultural users) must report their groundwater use and pay groundwater production charges to Valley Water. Per our District Act (our enabling legislation), the groundwater production charges for agricultural use cannot exceed 25% of charges for non-agricultural use. Non-rate related revenue is used to offset the lost agricultural water revenue and is referred to as the Open Space Credit. The purpose of this credit is to preserve the open space benefits provided by agricultural lands.

      Continued and expanded water conservation is essential to ensure continued water supply reliability. Valley Water works with all local communities, including residents, businesses, and agriculture by providing programs and resources to help everyone make conservation a way of life.


  2. It’s a little late in tha game to be thinking about saving water, don’t you think? However building about ten desalination plants would be something worthwhile. It would be a shame to see even one politician go thirsty….


  3. Imagine a network of desalination plants of all the same design spaced out along the coast. Personnel would be interchangeable, and parts and supplies wouldnt require massive inventories. No more senseless than a high speed train that produces nothing. We can fix our problems, we just need to focus on solving them. Building more dams for storage is great if we have something to store, but its a gamble. Desalination plants are a sure thing. Technology is advancing and costs are dropping. It will never get better unless we make it so.


  4. If water conservation in residential, business, and ornamental landscapes is a heavy focus for VW, then how can you explain the chronic water waste (overspray and runoff) from ornamental landscapes primarily in commercial landscapes? I’ve reported multiple instances of water waste from inefficient (and illegal) sprinkler systems to VW, City of Morgan Hill, and City of Gilroy. The only response is that the customer has been contacted and the case is closed. Then, I continue to see the same problems over and over. Local and state laws, primarily WELO, give VW and your retailers the ability to address these issues with much more than just warnings. Financial penalties and shutting off access to water are both tools at your disposal, yet these problems persist. For a visual example of the sort of water waste that I’m referring to, please watch the following video:

    It is easy to see this water waste on a daily basis in many commercial areas in Santa Clara County. The water waste in the video is on Madrone Parkway in Morgan Hill. It’s also a major problem on Cochrane Road and almost every commercial landscape with lawns. These irrigation systems were designed (and approved by local planning department staff), installed (but not inspected by third parties as required by law, again a failure on part of planning department staff), and maintained illegally. If this is truly “a serious emergency for our communities,” then this type of chronic waste should be one of the easiest problems to address.


    1. Mr. Johnson,’
      Mr. Johnson,
      Thank you for sharing your concerns and submitting your questions regarding irrigation systems on commercial properties and enforcement of the Model Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance (MWELO) throughout Santa Clara County. The purpose of MWELO is to increase irrigation efficiency within certain new developments and retrofitted landscapes using water budgets, efficient design principles, construction methods, and maintenance criteria. However, the implementation and enforcement of MWELO has had varying levels of success within California.

      In accordance with Executive Order B-29-15, it is up to agencies (the cities within our County) to report on their implementation and enforcement of MWELO to the California Department of Water Resources. Valley Water, in its role as the wholesale water provider for Santa Clara County, aids in the development and implementation of water-related legislation through collaboration with our retailers and cities. Valley Water does not act as an enforcement agency and does not have the authority to enforce MWELO or issue fines. Valley Water also does not actively track how each respective agency’s planning department implements and enforces MWELO.

      There is currently new legislation under development, AB1668 and SB606, that is aiming to increase water efficiency throughout California by setting water budgets for service areas. Although the particulars of how these budgets will be calculated are still under development, a factor within the calculation will build upon the principles of MWELO when determining appropriate water budgets for landscape areas. These service area water budgets will have more robust enforcement procedures from the State than MWELO.

      Valley Water is committed to further advancing the water efficiency and use of alternate water supply sources. To this end, Valley Water has been working with the cities in the county on a Model Water Efficient New Development Ordinance (MWENDO). As more jurisdictions adopt MWENDO, it will advance both indoor and outdoor conservation measures including requiring graywater dual distribution plumbing, smart irrigation controllers, the use of flow meters and dedicated irrigation meters that go beyond MWELO requirements.


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