'We're scrambling': Santa Clara Co. expected to declare water shortage emergency this week

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Tuesday, June 8, 2021
Here's what's behind expected water emergency in Santa Clara Co.
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The Santa Clara Valley Water District is expected to declare a water shortage emergency this week.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- The Santa Clara Valley Water District is expected to declare a water shortage emergency this week.

It's a move that would impact two-million residents. People and businesses will soon be asked to cut back and conserve, or potentially face fines.

RELATED: Gov. Newsom declares drought emergency for 39 California counties

The recommendation is a 15-percent reduction in water use across the county, compared to 2019 levels. Valley Water explained the number equates to a 33-percent reduction from 2013 levels.

"This is all wrapped up in a drought," Valley Water Director Gary Kremen told reporters. "And so, it's a combination of very bad things happening at the same time."

"Very bad things," which according to Kremen, includes draining the Anderson Dam for a massive retrofitting project, having trouble with buying water, and the county not receiving its typical water allocation.

In short, storage is down and prices are up in preparation for the summer and year to come.

"It will be dire next year, with a capital 'D'," he added. "Right now, we're scrambling... and everyone's scrambling, and that's the problem."

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Some residents are already taking on that responsibility by rethinking landscaping. Around San Jose's Northside Neighborhood, ABC7 News found people putting in mulch, rocks and other material to keep from watering.

ABC7 News also met Philip Higgins. By day, he is a wildlife biologist. By neighbors, he's known for his lush front yard, filled with water efficient, drought tolerant plants.

Higgins said 99-percent of his plants are California natives.

"I think the trend is going that way as water gets more and more expensive," Higgins shared. "I think the biggest thing is education."

Higgins said he watered the plants for two to three years until the roots were established, then stopped.

RELATED: Sonoma Co. to cut pumping from Russian River by 20% as drought worsens

He explained, "Then after that, it's only minimum work, pruning here and there. So, you actually do save money and time in the long-term."

When asked how often he waters his lawn now, Higgins said, "I don't. Only the plants I planted this year- a few annuals."

To water those plants, he uses graywater from his washing machine and buckets from his shower.

"I also have a rainwater system as well, but I didn't get much rain this year, Higgins shared.

"I'm always amazed. Most people have these big sprinkler systems watering their grasses," he told ABC7 News. "Not only are they watering their grasses, they're watering the paths, roadways. There's a vast amount of wastage."

It's that waste that customers could soon be fined for. Valley Water's board will ask county leaders to declare a local emergency. This move is necessary for the district, since it doesn't have the legal authority to order cities or water companies to impose mandatory water restrictions.

In addition, Kremen added, "We absolutely would like Governor Newsom to declare a drought emergency in Santa Clara County."