Drought water saving efforts dry up local water agency funds

David Louie Image
Wednesday, August 27, 2014
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Water bills could soon rise, just as water consumption is going down during the drought.

MORGAN HILL, Calif. (KGO) -- The drought is showing early signs it's going to impact water bill rates, even as you cut back on use to meet state conservation goals. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission says the drought has created a $4 million budget hole. In the South Bay, the number crunching is just starting for the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

Chesbro Reservoir was at 37 percent of capacity exactly one year ago. That's compared to 1.9 percent now. This is the lowest level of the Santa Clara Valley Water District's 10 reservoirs.

Nearby Uvas Reservoir is at 6 percent of capacity. Almaden Reservoir is better off at almost 26 percent. All three reflect the amount of runoff from surrounding hills. The last time there was measurable rainfall in this area was on March 27th when about a third of an inch fell.

When there's no water here, there's no water to release into ponds like this, leaving them bone dry.

"All these groundwater replenishment ponds are dry because of the drought. We don't have enough water in our reservoirs or imported water to keep them full this year, and that's a great reminder that this is a very serious drought," said Marty Grimes of Santa Clara Valley Water District.

Between the low reservoirs and the state mandate to conserve, the Santa Clara Valley Water District Board is being asked to approve $3 million for a conservation rebate program. That would extend one due to end next month. The money will come out of reserve funds. As water users cut back consumption, that's putting stress on the district's budget. It will begin its budget planning later this week, and higher rates appear to be likely.

"We have some of our costs that have gone up and some of our costs have gone down. There will be the actual water sales, actual water revenues. Take all that into account, it could be I would say 63 cents would be kind of a higher number rather than a lower number," said Joan Maher of Santa Clara Valley Water District.

That's 63 cents per household, on average. Consumers say they see an increase coming and some are more concerned than others.