After months of falling short, Santa Clara County residents are finally starting to hit the target when it comes to water conservation.
After two record-breaking years, the Santa Clara Valley Water District declared a drought emergency in June, asking the county’s 2 million residents to reduce water consumption by 15% from the 2019 level.
After failing to reach this target for four months, the county’s water consumption fell by 16% in October. But there was a catch: Unusually heavy rain that month caused people to turn off garden sprinklers. Now the trend looks more solid. New figures released this week show a 20% saving in November, which had dry weather, compared to November 2019.
The trend is a good thing, water experts say, because even though major storms in December ended Northern California’s wildfire season and built up the Sierra Nevada snowbag, reservoirs across much of California remain below normal – and significantly more rain is needed in over the next three months to fill them and end the drought.
“It’s way too early to increase football this year,” said Jeff Mount, professor emeritus at UC Davis and senior fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California Water Center. “We are halfway through the rainy season. We still have a very long way to go again.”
South Bay Water manages to agree.
“We are not out of the drought,” said Aaron Baker, chief operating officer at Santa Clara Valley Water District, the county’s water wholesaler. “We continue to plead with the community to continue their great work.”
Other parts of the Bay Area were also protected in November.
Customers in the East Bay Municipal Utility District, which supplies water to 1.4 million people in the Alameda and Contra Costa counties, reduced water consumption by 22% in November compared to November 2019. So far, the district has only requested a 10% voluntary cut.
A possible reason for the growing water savings in Santa Clara County? The threat of higher bills.
In November, the San Jose Water Company, a private company that supplies water to 1 million people in San Jose, Cupertino, Campbell, Los Gatos, Saratoga and Monte Sereno, began imposing monthly water budgets on its private customers in addition to spending more than it allocated. amount.
To meet the water district conservation target of 15%, the San Jose Water Company required its customers to cut 15% from their 2019 level or pay $ 7.13 in addition for each unit of water above that amount.
Each water unit is 100 cubic feet (or 1 CCF), which is 748 gallons – the standard measure on most water bills.
“I think it has something to do with it,” said John Tang, vice president of the San Jose Water Company. “We’ve been very proactive in getting the message out there about our plan and the drought surcharges.”
Reflecting the county-wide savings, San Jose Water customers reduced their spending by 20% in November from the November 2019 level.
The two years ending June 30 were the driest two-year period in Northern California since 1975-77. Drought conditions, exacerbated by climate change, led to record-breaking forest fires in 2020 and 2021.
The wet December helped, experts say. But so far, January has been fairly dry. And more sunny weather is forecast.
“The next two weeks look dry,” said Jan Null, a meteorologist at Golden Gate Weather Services in Half Moon Bay. ‘There is a high pressure ridge off the coast. The jet stream hangs to the left and goes to British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest. “
Computer models suggest some storms may return to California in late January, Null said.
“But it’s so far out that my confidence level is in single digits,” he added.
The rains in December helped to increase reservoir levels. But one or two months of heavy rain does not wipe out two years of severe drought, experts say.
In Santa Clara County, the 10 reservoirs operated by the Santa Clara Valley Water District on Wednesday were 26% full – up from 11% full on December 1st. The district has a particular problem: Its largest reservoir, Anderson, near Morgan Hill, is empty of earthquake repairs that were mandated by the federal government.
To compensate for the lost water and drought, the district has increased the pumping of local groundwater. It has also asked residents to save. It spent $ 35 million buying water from other districts over the past year, mostly agricultural districts in the Sacramento Valley with senior water rights.
And it has taken 35,000 acre-feet of water – about 15% of last year’s demand – from the Semitropic Water Storage District of Kern County, where it has stored excess water in recent, wetter years.
Only one part of the Bay Area, Marin County, has experienced an almost total reversal of drought conditions. After the Marin was the firing point of several drifting atmospheric river storms in December, the seven reservoirs operated by the Marin Municipal Water District rose steadily. On Friday, they were 95% full.
For at least a year, the district has delayed a $ 100 million emergency plan to build a pipeline across the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge to avoid running out of water. And it is preparing to ease water restrictions.
But in much of the rest of the state, large reservoirs have not recovered so well. Shasta Lake, California’s largest reservoir, near Redding, was only 33% full on Wednesday. Oroville, the second largest, in Butte County, was 43% full.
Sierra Nevada snow was 130% normal, down from 160% two weeks ago.
“The jury is still out,” Tang said. “The water industry is breathing a little relieved sigh right now, but we still have three months left in the winter and those three months are getting critical.”
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