Bay Area dry spell may prompt officials to impose restrictions

SAN JOSE, Calif.

Water districts look at usage and supplies on a multi-year timeline. Monthly assessments help determine if and when conservation is needed. An early look at an advancement report that will be released Tuesday indicates that rainfall over the next three months will be decisive.

The long dry spell suggests the days of unrestricted water use may be numbered. And the waste it sometimes creates.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District is monitoring its water resources and the current situation is raising a yellow, or cautionary signal.

San Jose rainfall last month was only a sixteenth of an inch, bringing the total rainfall since July to 30 percent of average.

And local reservoirs are at only 33 percent of total capacity. They're at 66 percent of the average over 20 years.

"We'll give an initial outlook, make some initial recommendations to our board, and then by April is when we would solidify, I think, any plans related to water shortage contingency," Water Supply Manager Joan Maher said.

The low level of reservoirs may be an early sign of trouble ahead, but the water district also has to factor in its other sources, such as the San Joaquin Delta, ground water levels that feed wells, and water supplies banked at an underground tank facility in Kern County.

South Bay water customers are also being given incentives to join pro-active conservation programs. A new program that just launched pays $100 for installing a graywater system that diverts washing machine water to irrigate landscaping. A typical system installation runs between $500 and $800.

"Half of the water in a single-family home is inside the house, half is outside. And about a third of that is your washing machine. Just imagine getting a third of your waste water and watering a third of your landscaping. It's just really smart," Graywater System installer Roy Nordblom III said.

The water district also has raised the rebate for re-landscaping with drought-resistant plants from 75 cents to $1 per square foot. If that's not enough incentive, future enhancements are possible.

"We'll reach out to the public and find out why you're not participating. What can we do, what changes can we make. Sometimes it's just streamlining the process. Sometimes it's a higher rebate," Water Conservation Program Manager Jerry De La Piedra said.

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