Mandatory water cuts for Santa Clara County

March 24, 2009 7:23:59 PM PDT
Nearly 2 million water customers in Santa Clara County found out Tuesday they will need to cut their water use by a mandatory 15 percent. But conservation comes at a cost; the water district will now face a $10 million hole in its budget as a result.

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It took two hours of discussion and debate to reach that decision that water customers, like San Jose resident Mary Clark, will be required to cut their usage. She was washing her jeep when she heard the news.

"It's going to be hard, but everyone has to do what they have to do to save the environment and save the water that we need," Clark said.

The district has already seen a 7 percent reduction in water use, the result of voluntary conservation measure it put in place a month ago, so customers are about halfway to the 15 percent mandate.

The county is facing lower allocations from its state and central valley water sources and even though recent storms brought reservoirs up to 65 percent of capacity, the outlook remains a concern.

Now it is up to individual water companies and municipal water departments to set up compliance programs. Households might get allocations or see rates changed to reward savers while charging more for excessive use. It could be different from city to city.

"Somebody living right across a city line from someone else may have a different allocation or a different conservation target than someone else, than a neighbor," San Jose Water Company senior vice president George Belhumeur said.

Conservation will cost the valley water district an estimated $10 million, but an effort will be made not to raise rates.

"Automatically, normally, we would raise the water rates because we're selling less water," water district chairman Sig Sanchez said. "Certainly we can live one year of no increase in water rates because of the economy. People are hurting."

While the Santa Clara Valley Water District's mandatory cutback takes effect immediately, it still may take 60 to 90 days for individual cities and water companies to formulate their plans and to impose penalties.

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