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A recent summit hosted by the Santa Clara Valley Water District brought together elected officials and organizations across the Bay Area to discuss solutions to statewide water problems as California experiences its third consecutive year of a severe drought emergency.

Water Summit 2022 focused on both short- and long-term solutions and mitigations to water shortages.

Aaron Baker, the chief operating officer for water utility at Valley Water, said such solutions are needed to help the region through the current drought.

For Valley Water, some of the solutions include conservation programs. The water district offers rebates for scrapping lawns in favor of low water use and environmentally friendly options, and rebates to those irrigating with graywater diverted from laundry use. Landscaping rebates can reach up to $3,000 for residential sites and $100,000 for commercial, institutional or industrial sites, depending on the water use savings.

The water district also offers free conservation devices to single-family and multi-family homes and commercial properties.

“We have programs for every home and business in the county,” said Kirsten Struve, assistant officer for the water supply division at Valley Water.

The district has seen success with its conservation outreach, citing more than 1 million square feet of lawn that has been converted to more environmentally and drought friendly landscaping and that the organization now has 22 conservation programs operating.

Water be dammed

As the summit turned to more long-term solutions, Chris Hakes, the deputy operating officer for dam safety and capital delivery for Valley Water, discussed the Anderson Dam Seismic Retrofit Project.

Anderson Reservoir, the largest groundwater recharge reservoir for Valley Water, is undergoing a dam tunnel project as part of a federally mandated project to make the dam up to current safety standards. The project is expected to be completed in 2024.

Following the tunnel, the project will continue into future phases that include reconstructing the embankment and replacing the spillway, keeping the downstream Morgan Hill area safe. The project is expected to be completed by 2031 or 2032.

Ryan McCarter, the Pacheco project manager for Valley Water, also outlined another reservoir project that the organization believes could help with water storage to mitigate the shortages of a drought.

(Video courtesy of Santa Clara Valley Water District/YouTube)

McCarter said that the Pacheco Reservoir, located in southeast Santa Clara County, is going to be expanded and allow the county to double its capacity for storage. The project will move a new dam upstream and utilize an existing pipeline to bring water into the region.

While the project has already received more than $500 million from the state, Valley Water is continuing to look for grants and partnerships to fund the expansion of the Pacheco reservoir.

The project will allow the reservoir to hold enough water for 1.4 million people for one year, while also improve downstream habitats for 10 miles.

Pure intentions

Struve outlined the organization’s other major focus for long-term water solutions: purification.

The process involves purifying the water typically disposed into the Bay to be reused. Valley Water is looking into expanding purification plants, with the goal of using recycled water to cover 10 percent of water use in future years.

The project would involve a 20-mile pipeline connecting wastewater treatment plants with further purification centers and recharge systems.

Another challenge facing purification? Public perception. Valley Water asked attendees to voice their support for the project to others to try to change the perception of recycled water as dirty, given the intense purification system and modern technology involved.

Other speakers at the summit also focused on the importance of hiring workers to the water industry with diversity and inclusion in mind, including through a focus on students from historically Black colleges and universities through a partnership with the Silicon Valley Leadership Group.

Valley Water Board of Directors chair pro tem John Varela ended the summit by calling on all to spread the message that social justice, water recycling and water conservation are essential to California making it through droughts.