Water Conservation
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Drought and Conservation Frequently Asked Questions


On June 9, 2021, Valley Water’s Board of Directors declared a water shortage emergency condition in Santa Clara County due to the extreme drought. The Board of Directors also called for a mandatory 15% reduction in water use compared to 2019.

Valley Water is the wholesale provider to Santa Clara County, and we are collaborating with water retailers as they work to achieve the water use reduction target and communicate with their customers.

1. Why did the Board of Directors declare a water shortage emergency condition?

Santa Clara County is facing various challenges to its water supply because of the extreme drought conditions.

This is the driest water year since 1977. About 50% of our water supply comes from outside our county, and the depleted Sierra Nevada snowpack caused a significant reduction in the amount of imported water we will receive this year.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission ordered Anderson Reservoir to be drained for public safety as we strengthen the dam. This means the largest drinking water reservoir in Santa Clara County is out of service while performing this critical work.

California law requires distributors of public water supply to declare a water shortage emergency condition when the ordinary demands for drinking water, sanitation, and fire protection cannot be met without depleting the local water supply. By declaring a water shortage emergency condition, Valley Water can work with our retailers, cities and the county to implement regulations and restrictions on the delivery and use of water.  

2. What water use restrictions apply to me?

Each city/water retailer will determine its own water use restrictions and regulations for their customers. We recommend residents and businesses contact their individual water retailers for information about restrictions and/or guidelines. To find your retailer, visit https://www.valleywater.org/your-water/find-your-water-retailer.

The recommendations for saving water in the following questions and answers will help you regardless of your retailer.

3. How can I reduce water use in my home?

Some easy ways to save water indoors include turning off water while brushing teeth, checking for water leaks, installing efficient showerheads and aerators and only running full loads of laundry or dishes. You can also use a shower timer to help reduce shower length and use a bucket to catch water from your shower or bath before it warms. You can then use the water in the bucket for your trees and garden or to flush your toilets.

 Valley Water offers free water-savings devices that help conserve water in the shower, faucets and toilets.  We can also send you a Do-It-Yourself Water Wise Indoor Survey Kit to identify where to look for potential leaks. Visit watersavings.org to request these great tools — which we ship directly to your home free of charge — or to learn more information on the ways you can reduce water use indoors.

4. How can I reduce my outdoor watering?

Given that at least half of the water in a typical Santa Clara County home is used outdoors, making your yard drought-ready is a great way to help save water and save money on your water bill. Valley Water offers a Landscape Rebate Program to help transform your thirsty yard into a beautiful drought-resilient landscape and upgrade to high-efficiency equipment. Valley Water has increased the maximum rebates for the Landscape Rebate Program. Beginning July 1, 2021, maximum rebates will increase to $3,000 for residential sites and Landscape Conversion rebates will double to $2 per square foot for all sites. Maximum rebate amounts and rebate rates may be higher in some cost sharing areas. Visit valleywater.org/saving-water/rebates-surveys/landscape-rebates for more information.

Other ways to decrease your outdoor water use include using a broom to sweep driveways and patios, washing your car at a car wash that recirculates water, and watering ornamental landscapes and lawns in the early mornings or evenings no more than the number of days allowed by your city/retailer. Adding two to three inches of mulch to the landscape can also significantly reduce irrigation needs.

For more information on our rebate programs and ways to save water, visit www.watersavings.org. Please apply for your rebate before getting started on your water-savings project.

5. How can I reduce water use at my business or multi-family complex?

Valley Water is proud to offer a wide variety of rebates and programs to help commercial, industrial, and institutional sites in Santa Clara County save water. Help your business save money by lowering utility costs while working to meet your water conservation goals. Our rebates and programs include:

  • Water Efficient Technology (WET) rebates: Receive up to $100,000 for installing equipment that results in measurable water savings.
  • Landscape Rebate Program: Businesses, schools and multi-family sites (five or more units) can receive up to $50,000-$65,000* for replacing high-water use landscapes, upgrading inefficient irrigation equipment and installing rainwater capture elements.
  • FREE Large Landscape Surveys: Schedule a free large landscape survey to receive irrigation efficiency recommendations on landscape areas greater than ½ acre or 1,000 cubic feet of annual landscape water use.
  • Submeter Rebates: Receive a $150-$300 rebate for each submeter installed at multi-family complexes, such as mobile home parks, apartment and condominium complexes. A submeter allows measurement and billing of individual tenant water usage.
  • FREE Water-Saving Equipment & Materials such as high-efficiency faucet aerators, “drinking Water by Request” restaurant table tents, “Towel Reuse” hotel cards and pre-rinse sprayers. You can order these items for free, and have them delivered to your business for free, with our new online shopping cart at https://cloud.valleywater.org/ords/r/appweb/shopping-cart/store

For more details about these programs and for all Valley Water water-saving programs, rebates and tools, visit www.watersavings.org.

6. Are big water users affected by the restrictions?

Yes, the restrictions apply to all water users, including big water users. The resolution by the Valley Water Board of Directors supports local adoption and enforcement of additional water waste restrictions by cities, retailers, and the County of Santa Clara as needed to achieve the water use reduction target of 15% of 2019 water use.

Please check with your city and/or water retailer to find out about restrictions. To find your retailer, visit https://www.valleywater.org/your-water/find-your-water-retailer

Valley Water provides water for large surface users and agriculture and will be supporting these groups in their efforts to achieve the water use reduction target. It will take all of us doing our part to achieve the 15% reduction and ensure that we can weather this extreme drought.

7. What can I do if I see someone wasting water, such as sprinklers soaking a sidewalk or people hosing down their driveway, during a drought?

Valley Water is working hard to educate our communities about the need to make conservation a way of life, not just during droughts. We have a team of water waste inspectors who respond to reports of water waste and violations of local water use restrictions. The purpose of our Water Waste Inspector Program is to educate the public with helpful tips, suggestions, and resources to reduce or eliminate water waste. 

To report water waste, you may select any of these convenient options:

  1. Download our Access Valley Water app or go to Access Valley Water and select the "**Report Water Wasters" topic.
  2. Email [email protected]
  3. Call 408-630-2000

Any specific notes such as location, date and time, or frequency will help our inspectors follow up when investigating reports.

8. I have already taken several steps to reduce my water use. I replaced my lawn with drought-resilient landscape, installed water-efficient appliances, faucets and showerheads, and have taken other water-savings measures. Will I be punished by not reducing my water use even more?

We thank our community members who have already committed to making conservation a way of life. Efforts from people like you help us be in a better condition than we otherwise would be without your hard work. Every drop saved is one we can use next year if the drought continues. Water conservation is the best tool available to Valley Water at the moment. Valley Water will collaborate with the water retailers, including your water retailer, to encourage them to prioritize policies and restrictions on those who can make additional water savings. With half of the residential water use occurring outside, there is a lot more potential to ensure everyone reduces water use the way you have done.

9. Will water rates increase?

The Board of Directors approved a modest increase in wholesale water charges that will become effective on July 1, 2021. The increase will help pay for emergency water needed this year to help meet demand and help keep groundwater at normal levels. It will also allow our community to prepare for droughts and other natural disasters by bolstering our water conservation programs, expanding the use of recycled water and starting work on the Anderson Dam Seismic Retrofit Project.

The average resident in Santa Clara County will see an increase ranging from $4.30 to $4.82 per month in their water bill, not including any increases established by water retailers. We do not currently anticipate any further wholesale rate increases for FY22 due to the worsening drought emergency.

Valley Water does not set customer rates. Retail water providers set these rates. Retailers will take their own actions to implement the water use restrictions, which may include drought surcharges or conservation pricing structures that bill people at higher rates for overuse. To find your retailer, visit https://www.valleywater.org/your-water/find-your-water-retailer.

10. Why are you using 2019 for a baseline year for water use reduction?

It was the last normal hydrological year. In 2020 we began experiencing drought conditions, so it is not an appropriate year to use as outdoor water increases when conditions are dry. Other agencies that have called for water use restrictions have also used more recent years rather than 2013, which was the baseline for the previous drought.

11. Will we see dry ponds and creeks because of the extreme drought?

Yes. To conserve remaining water supplies for drinking water, sanitation and firefighting, Valley Water has suspended most groundwater recharge operations for summer 2021 and possibly longer if the drought continues beyond this year. In practical terms, that means that Valley Water has restricted the delivery of water to the majority of its 102 recharge ponds and reduced water releases to creeks for in-stream groundwater percolation.

You may see areas of creeks that are without water until the current serious situation improves.

Valley Water’s priorities remain the delivery of safe, clean water from our drinking water treatment plants to local water providers and municipalities and maintaining healthy groundwater basins for residents and retailers that depend on groundwater pumping to meet their demands. Valley Water will continue to work with local, state, and federal regulatory partners to coordinate on drought impacts on fish and wildlife while conducting water supply operations and maintenance activities in an environmentally sensitive manner.

12. How will the drought impact wildlife in Santa Clara County?

Historically, many Santa Clara County creeks were seasonally dry in some areas. Since then, dams, reservoirs, and imported water have been used to provide our critical water supply and have also allowed for more consistent and controlled water flow into creeks. For the past two years, rainfall has been well below average, which has reduced reservoir water storage. Because of this, there is not enough water available in the reservoirs to keep the downstream creeks flowing through their entire length. Valley Water works with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to determine how much water from reservoirs is released into creeks. The goal is to keep creeks as wet as possible for as long as possible, but there may be areas of creeks that are without water until the extreme drought situation improves.

Drought means less water, which can reduce vegetation growth, fruit and seed production, or cause plants to die; this means reduced food availability and cover for wildlife. This can reduce breeding success and increase death of wildlife during periods of drought. You may see deer or other wildlife more frequently as they travel longer distances in search of food and water. As animals concentrate around remaining areas of plants and water, populations may become more vulnerable to the spread of disease or predators. Insect populations typically decline during periods of drought, and as a result the animals that eat them, such as birds and bats, can also be impacted. Drought reduces streamflow and habitat availability for fish and other aquatic species. Attempts are being made to maintain habitat for Central California Coast Steelhead, a species listed as threatened by the federal government, and other native fish and wildlife species with the limited water available. Thankfully, our native fish and wildlife are adapted to periods of drought, and many respond to drying or warming waters by moving to wetter and cooler areas. Many of the fish observed remaining in isolated pools or dry areas are non-native species that compete with and prey upon our native fish.

Priority D of Valley Water’s Safe, Clean Water and Natural Flood Protection Program supports projects that restore and protect wildlife habitat, such as planting native species, removing barriers to fish movement, improving steelhead habitat and stabilizing eroded creek banks. These projects can help make habitats, and the wildlife that use them, more resilient to periods of drought. You can help native wildlife by providing water sources in your yard such as birdbaths (just make sure to clean them regularly), incorporating native plants into your garden (which are better able to survive drought and support native insects), and putting down a two-to-four-inch layer of mulch in your garden to retain water and reduce water use. Visit Valley Water’s webpage at https://www.valleywater.org/project-updates/d2-revitalize-riparian-upland-and-wetland-habitat to learn more about revitalizing habitats. Valley Water will continue to work with local, state, and federal partners to reduce and address drought impacts on fish and wildlife while providing safe, clean water, flood protection and environmental stewardship.