The Santa Clara Valley Water District board declared a water shortage emergency condition on Wednesday, becoming the first water district in the state to do so since the drought of the early to mid 2010s.
According to the declaration, the two million people in the water district will need to abide by a mandatory 15% water usage reduction as compared to usage in 2019. While nothing was specifically barred, the board noted numerous ways that residents could help reduce water consumption, with many being proposed as future mandatory restrictions. These include reducing watering lawns and ornamental landscapes to a maximum of three days a week, limiting the filling of swimming pools, prohibiting giving water at restaurants except when requested by a customer, and restricting drinking water usage for washing cars, aircraft, boats, and other vehicles. The board also noted an increase to the rebate program for residents, businesses, and farmers that conserve water.
“We can’t afford to wait to act as our water supplies are being threatened locally and across California,” said Santa Clara Valley Water District Director Tony Estremera in a press release on Wednesday. ” We are in an emergency and Valley Water must do everything we can to protect our groundwater resources and ensure we can provide safe, clean water to Santa Clara County residents and businesses. To better deal with these threats and the emergency they are causing, today my fellow Board Members and I unanimously declared a water shortage emergency condition in Santa Clara County.
“This declaration, which is among the strongest actions we can take under law, allows Valley Water to work with our retailers, cities and the county to implement regulations and restrictions on the delivery and consumption of water. We also are urging the County of Santa Clara to proclaim a local emergency and join us in underscoring the seriousness of the threats posed by the extreme drought. Increased conservation is also necessary to protect local water supplies and guard against groundwater overdraft, subsidence, and dry domestic wells, especially if the drought extends into next year. That’s why my fellow Board Members and I also are calling for a mandatory 15% reduction in water use compared to 2019.”
The Vice Chairman of the board, Gary Kremen, backed up Estremera’s statement on Wednesday, noting that the county is “in a very serious situation, way worse than last time, especially since half our storage is gone and the amount of water coming into our county is just a trickle.”
Reservoir draining, reduced Sierra Nevada snowpack primarily blamed for emergency conditions in water district
The board declared an emergency due to the worsening condition of the drought in Santa Clara County, as well as a way to protect water supplies in the future, especially if drought conditions carry on into 2022. Estremera specifically noted that the draining of the nearby Anderson Reservoir by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to strengthen the dam was also a huge factor, as Anderson is the largest surface reservoir in the county. Environmental factors such as less rain and a reduced snowpack in the Sierra Nevadas also received blame from the board.
“Our imported water supplies are decreasing because of the historic dry season,” added Estremera. “About 50% of our water supply comes from outside our county, and the depleted Sierra Nevada snowpack caused a significant reduction in the amount of imported water we will receive this year. Valley Water is addressing this by working to withdraw previously banked supplies and purchasing emergency water from our partners.”
A release of water from many reservoirs to help with local endangered fish populations has been held up by many as a major contributing factor for the drought, with 50% of fresh water in the state being used solely for environmental practices. As many reservoirs were filled with above average amounts of water only two years ago, the release of water for environmental reasons has been challenged more and more in recent months.
Experts noted that many other boards are likely to follow due to Santa Clara’s action on Wednesday, as well as the buildup of more reports highlighting the direness of the situation. A U.S. Drought Monitor report found that Santa Clara County is actually in it’s second year of a drought and is currently in an extreme drought, while a recent California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) report found that the first six months of 2021 rank as the fourth driest stretch of time in California history.
“Right now, 41 of the 58 counties in California are under an emergency drought order given by Governor Gavin Newsom,” noted Augustus Fleming, a water engineer in Kern County, to the Globe on Thursday. “Only one of those districts have declared a major water emergency. And look, a lot of counties under that order are incredibly urban, big on agriculture, or on some cases, both. Both require a lot of water.
“Having the waiter ask you if you want water isn’t going to cut it. There is no easy answer here. You just can’t say “divert the water” or “stop reservoirs from pumping out water” or “create a pipeline from the Great Lakes”, because all of those have major consequences too. That’s why the Valley Water Board did what it did yesterday, and that’s why we’re going to see the more do the same.”
More water boards, counties, and other local jurisdictions are expected to announce similar emergency declarations in the coming weeks as temperatures and water usage across the state are expected to rise.