California Water Shortage Emergency Declared in Santa Clara County Due to Extreme Drought

The board of California's Santa Clara Valley Water District declared a water shortage emergency condition in Santa Clara County on Wednesday, due to the "extreme drought" in the area amid a historic dry season.

The emergency declaration allows Valley Water to work with local authorities and businesses to "implement regulations and restrictions on the delivery and consumption of water," the chair of the board, Tony Estremera, said in a statement Wednesday.

The district—which manages the water resources system for the county's 2 million residents—has called for a mandatory 15 percent reduction in water use compared to 2019 levels (which equates to a 33 percent reduction from 2013 water levels) along with other water restrictions, as supplies are threatened across the state, the statement said.

A Valley Water board agenda memorandum stated that Santa Clara County is in its second consecutive year of drought, and the U.S. Drought Monitor Report from May 25 indicates it is in "extreme drought."

"The year 2021 is the third driest on record and the driest since 1977, with the combination of 2020 and 2021 being the second driest back-to-back pair of years on record," the memorandum noted.

The board also called for Santa Clara County to declare a local emergency to underscore "the seriousness of the threats posed by the extreme drought," Estremera said.

He explained: "Santa Clara County is in extreme drought...our imported water supplies are decreasing because of the historic dry season.

"About 50 percent 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," he added.

According to the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), the first six months of water year 2021 rank as the fourth driest on record, and California Governor Gavin Newsom previously declared a drought emergency in 41 of 58 state counties, the Santa Clara city government website says.

What water restrictions could be in place?

Valley Water has called for placing several different limitations on water usage. Among them is putting a cap on "outdoor watering of ornamental landscapes or lawns with potable water [drinking water] to a maximum of three days a week," as outlined in an attachment to the board agenda memorandum.

Other proposed restrictions include a ban on the use of drinking water "for washing commercial aircraft, cars, buses, boats, trailers or other commercial vehicles at any time," apart from some exceptions that apply, as well as for filling swimming pools, according to the memorandum attachment.

The district also proposed prohibiting the "service of water by any restaurant except upon the request of a patron."

According to the statement Wednesday, the district is currently working to withdraw previously banked water supplies and is purchasing emergency water from its partners.

The county's Anderson Reservoir was ordered by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to be drained for public safety, as Valley Water attempts to strengthen the dam. "This means the largest surface reservoir in Santa Clara County is out of service while performing this critical work," the statement advised.

The board's vice-chair, Gary Kremen, told California's ABC 7: "We are in a very serious situation, way worse than last time, especially since half our storage is gone and the amount of water coming into our county is just a trickle."

Estremera warned that the district can't predict how long this drought will last.

He urged: "Now is the time for action to protect our groundwater basins and make sure there is enough water for all our communities."

Newsweek has contacted the Santa Clara Valley Water District, as well as the Santa Clara county and city government offices, for comment.

California's Anderson Reservoir seen in 2020.
A view of the dam at Anderson Reservoir in February 2020 in Morgan Hill, California. The Anderson Reservoir was ordered to be drained for public safety as Valley Water attempts to strengthen the dam amid an extreme drought in Santa Clara County. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images