Amplified calls to conserve water in SJ, or potentially face monthly limits with financial penalties

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- In San Jose, there are amplified calls to cut back and conserve water use, or potentially face monthly limits with financial penalties for exceeding them.

This could be the future for San Jose Water Company customers who don't meet the moment- one of extreme widespread drought.

"We know they've done a lot of cutbacks before," Sharon Whaley, Corporate Communications Manager for San Jose Water said. "But we're asking for just a little bit more so we can get through this crisis."

RELATED: San Jose Water customers told to limit water usage; 230,000 affected

Whaley said the company is asking customers to cutback 15-percent from their 2019 water use levels, and pay $7.13 in surcharges for every unit of water used beyond that amount.

"This doesn't mean that they have a higher bill," Whaley said. "If they stay within their allocation, they will not get a drought surcharge. And their bill won't be going up just because of what they use."

She explained San Jose Water filed an updated water contingency plan with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), earlier this month. She said after August 31st, the company will decide whether to put the new plan in place.

"We're going to see what June, July, and August showed in terms of water usage," Whaley told ABC7 News. "We're going to look at the trends and see if additional steps need to be taken. But right now we're asking our customers to use water wisely."

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Whaley emphasized this is not the same plan San Jose Water had in 2015 and 2016. At that time, each customer received the same exact allocation, regardless of lot and family size.

"This time, we know our customers have been conserving a lot," she continued. "So, we are asking for them to look at their own usage from 2019. We're going to give them an allocation if necessary, with a 15-percent reduction."

Whaley emphasized, "We can't control the drought. It's here. So, if we all do our part, we'll get through this together. But if we don't hit our numbers this year and we have another dry winter, things could get very difficult next year."

She said that is why San Jose Water is urging customers to consider their individual usage and what they can do to help contribute to what she referred to as a "better 2022."

Whaley said most of the company's water use restrictions are focused on the outside of the house- where she said people can make the biggest impact.

RELATED: 26% of California classified in worst drought category

"This is something to take very seriously," Great Oaks Water Company Vice President and General Counsel Tim Guster told ABC7 News about the current drought.

For Great Oaks Water, which also serves residents in San Jose, similar measures took effect back on July 13th.

Guster said he took immediate action to see rules implemented, after the Santa Clara Valley Water District declared a water shortage emergency on July 9.

"An emergency is just that," he said. "And there was no need to wait for somebody to tell me what to do. I already knew what to do. This is not the first time we've been through this."

Guster added, "What we've done is what we did in the last draft- which is, we have customized allocations for each of our customers to achieve the 15% reduction in usage."

He said most of the company's wells are near the Coyote Creek area in south San Jose.

"And we're monitoring the groundwater levels at each of our wells twice a month to make sure that we're not surprised by anything," Guster shared.

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He said water utilities throughout the San Jose area are very informed about what's going on with the drought.

"And we're all working together to achieve the desired outcome, but it's not going to be easy," he warned. "But our customers are terrific. Last drought, they came through and met the required goal and I expect that we will all do that again, this time."

However, Environmental Studies experts explained there is concern surrounding how quickly calls for a reduction in water use are being repeated.

"What's disconcerting to me is that our most recent drought was from 2011 to 2017. And then usually, there's a longer time period between droughts," San Jose State University (SJSU) professor and Environmental Studies Dept. chair, Katherine Cushing told ABC7 News. "But here we are, less than five years later."

She continued, "And we're again talking about mandatory residential water reductions of 15-percent- thinking about, 'How are we going to come up with this extra water when we are going into the third year of very little precipitation?'"

Cushing described current events, including raging wildfires and extreme drought as a perfect storm around water conservation and climate change-related extreme weather conditions.

RELATED: Millions of South Bay residents being asked to cutback, conserve water

"So if people didn't really think about it a lot before, they're certainly thinking about it a lot," she said. "Now, what climate change does is make these extreme weather events more frequent, and also more severe. So this may be a new normal for us, unfortunately."

Cushing said attention also needs to be paid to the distribution of water sources.

"Actually, the biggest water using sectors go to thermal electric power, which is tied to fossil fuel use, and irrigation," she explained. "We really need to be thinking about our systems for looking at new sources of water, reusing lightly used water from our faucets."

"There's lots and lots of technology for that," Cushing shared.

She understands water customers may be questioning why the push to cut back 15-percent is happening again.

"It's happening again because we haven't systemically changed the way that we provide water to everybody, and how we use it in all our other sectoral purposes," Cushing answered. "Which has remained basically the same for decades. And it needs to change."

Cushing said more action is needed, as failing to conserve water could cost us all, in more ways than one.

"The water landscape is changing a lot. So we can't use the old system to assume that that water is going to be there anymore," she said. "So we really have to think very strategically about how to find and use non-conventional sources of water."

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