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Strict water restrictions with fines appear to be coming to Silicon Valley

Strict water restrictions with fines appear to be coming to Silicon Valley
Photo Credit: Santa Clara Valley Water District
By Wesley Severson - Published on October 19, 2021.

New water restrictions appear to be coming to around a million households in the South Bay, and that includes steep fines for people who use too much. The San Jose Water company, which serves customers in San Jose, Saratoga, Campbell, Cupertino, Los Gatos, and other communities, is hoping the California Public Utilities Commission will approve a plan to force residents to cut back their water use by 15%. If customers go beyond that, they will get billed a $7.13 surcharge every time they go exceed a set threshold by 748 gallons. 748 gallons is considered one unit of water which is how customers are traditionally charged.

“The last drought was for five years. We’re in the second year of this one. We’re taking this very seriously. We’re hopeful Mother Nature is going to deliver this winter. But hope is not always a good strategy,” John Tang, VP of San Jose Water told the Mercury News. San Jose Water asked its customers four months ago to voluntarily cut back by 15% but representatives say it just isn’t working. As KPIX reports, the agency saw only a 1% decrease in water use when the voluntary cutback was implemented in June. It decreased 6% in July, and August saw an 8% drop.

“I think it’s very hard to get people to completely change their behavior. And I think we made progress. So we wish it had been more, but we encourage people to continue their conservation. I think people should be aware that there’s great reason to be concerned,” Liann Walborsky with San Jose Water told KPIX. Just 5.33 inches of rain fell from July of this year to June of last year in San Jose which is an estimated one-third of what the city normally gets.

Santa Clara County’s water woes seem deeper than other areas in the state. According to the Mercury News, the 10 reservoirs that span the county are at a combined 11% of capacity, which includes Anderson Reservoir. It’s the county’s largest reservoir and was recently drained to make earthquake retrofits. The project and the drought are forcing the Santa Clara Water District to buy 58,000 acre-feet of water from the Sacramento Area for $35 million.

The plans for the new fines and restrictions are expected to be approved by the CPUC and they would kick in starting November 15th. San Jose Water is targeting only medium-to-high water usage customers who regularly use between 6 and 13 units per month. Customers who already are below that range won’t get hit with fines.