State facing worsening drought; San Mateo County experts go over water supply, conservation efforts

Friday, July 9, 2021

Assemblymember Marc Berman met with experts July 1 to discuss California’s drought in an online town hall going over updates on the decreasing water supply and water conservation efforts.

“Climate change is here. It is impacting our lives in a very real way. And it’s not going to get better unless we do something about it,” Berman, D-Palo Alto, said.

Jeanine Jones, interstate resources manager and drought manager at the California Department of Water Resources, emphasized the dryness of this year.

“Many of our major Sierra Nevada watersheds are experiencing flows now that are about what we saw in 2014 and 2015, which were the driest years of our last drought,” Jones said.

And statewide reservoir storage has also been dropping because of dry conditions, she said.

“We’re really worried. Not just this year, but especially next year,” Gary Kremen, vice chair and board member at the Santa Clara Valley Water District, said. “The system that we have was built for 10 million people in this state. Now we got four times as many. We didn’t allocate water for the environment. So that’s one of the reasons why we’re trying to upgrade the infrastructure.”

With the water that is harvested statewide, 50% goes to the environment, 40% to agriculture and 10% to municipal and industrial uses. In San Mateo and Santa Clara counties, 55% of water is used by residents, he said.

People can do something about both indoor and outdoor use of water, Kremen said. On its website at watersavings.org, it provides water conservation programs such as rebates, surveys and free gear to help residents conserve water.

“Normally we get about 36 inches of rain this year. To date, we’ve got 18 inches. I don’t expect any rain through the rest of the summer,” Tom Francis, water resources manager at the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency, said.

The water agency and its water provider, San Francisco, are currently working on alternative water supply projects that are under study or are going into a design stage. This includes a water recycling project in Daly City and a purified water project that would be mixed with the Crystal Springs Reservoir supply.

Francis also urged people to voluntarily use less water. BAWSCA offers rebate programs for its member agencies and residents can find what their particular water provider offers in terms of rebate as well at bawsca.org.

“We need to fix California to make sure we’re protecting our resources, protecting the availability of water for everything that we do for the state,” Robert Seeley, Regional Community Affairs Specialist with California Water Service, said.

Cal Water stretches as far north as Chico and as far north as Rancho Dominguez covering thousands of miles worth of pipes, wells, tens of thousands of hydrants, surface water treatment plants and wastewater treatment plants included, and then coming back down to the Bay Area, he said. It also has conservation programs that can be found on its site at calwater.com.

Questions by community members included how adding denser housing in California and Silicon Valley could be justified due to the increasing threat of drought and amount of water for current users.

Berman said, “There is enough water for current users, but we all need to use less water more efficiently. I think it’s important that we don’t let one challenge, the drought, exacerbate an already existing housing crisis by creating a false rationale to stop producing housing, especially denser infill housing.”

On June 28, the California Legislature passed a budget allocating $3 billion in a water resilience and drought package to expand and protect water supply across the state.

Some state response actions to the drought included construction of a temporary emergency barrier in the Delta to preserve upstream storage and better manage salinity and the State Water Resources Control Board has been taking a number of expedited actions to administer water rights, Jones said.

The first drought emergency proclamation was issued April 21 covering Mendocino and Sonoma counties. The expansion of that proclamation was May 10 in response to the impacts of reduced runoff from the large watersheds in the Sierra Nevada. About 10 of the state’s counties and several tribes have issued emergency proclamations as well.