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South Bay Water Officials Draw On Distant Reserves, Weigh Options As Drought Deepens

SANTA CLARA COUNTY (KPIX) – While drought conditions are upon the Bay Area, water officials in Santa Clara County plan to draw from distant reserves for now and seek to increase storage and expand water recycling in the future.

Half of the water in Santa Clara County comes from somewhere else, sometimes hundreds of miles away.

Much of it gets stored in the San Luis Reservoir near Los Banos and it doesn't take an expert to see that this year supplies are running low.

"The water line is usually up here.  But that's a pretty nice long walk to go fishing now," said Roy, who stopped to take pictures of the reservoir's low water levels.

San Luis Reservoir Drought
A couple stops to look at the San Luis Reservoir, which is low due to drought conditions, on April 29, 2021. (CBS)

The Santa Clara Valley Water District's own above ground reservoirs are only about a third of capacity.

To make matters worse, the district recently had to drain Anderson Reservoir east of Morgan Hill, its largest reservoir, for earthquake retrofitting.

Meanwhile, underground aquifer levels, where most of the water is stored, is healthy. To keep it that way as we head into drought, the water district is planning to import more and dip into reserves stored in Kern County.

"We're going outside and buying water from our partners, and we are taking water out of our groundwater storage bank in the Central Valley and bringing that here into Santa Clara County to make sure that we can still meet demand here in Santa Clara County," said Matt Keller, spokesperson for the water district.

Long-term plans to increase storage include expanding Pacheco reservoir near Highway 152, which would be as big as all current reservoirs combined.

The expansion plan is still under review.

"If our storage runs out, our aqueducts run dry, we've got nothing," said Pat Ferraro, a retired water board member and water policy professor at San Jose State.

Ferraro says the keys to sustainable water supplies in California are conservation and water recycling at plants that can purify wastewater for irrigation and potable use.

"We're doing a little bit of water recycling, I wish we were doing more. That's been my hue and cry for 50 years. Reclaim, the end is near you know?" he said

The Santa Clara Valley Water District does have plans to expand water recycling to supply 10 percent of its total water demands by 2025.  That would mean 24,000 acre feet of recycled, purified water, enough to fill the Lexington Reservoir in Los Gatos to overflowing every year.

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