Silicon Valley residents could face fines for wasting water
Valley Water will consider having water enforcers educate residents on conservation, and in some instances issue fines for repeat violators. Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

Although Valley Water aims to educate the public on conservation, it might start issuing fines for water wasters.

Residents could see water enforcers in their neighborhoods this summer, and offenders being slapped with fines up to $500 after repeated warnings.

Valley Water board member John Varela said in a statement that if the statewide drought continues into 2023, Santa Clara County faces the possibility of wells going dry and land sinking from empty aquifers, which can rupture pipelines and crack home foundations, roads and bridges.

“For the first time in our history, Valley Water is considering adoption of an enforcement program that could fine those who waste water,” he said. “We do not take this lightly, but we want everyone to know that we are in a very serious drought emergency, and we must all take immediate action to protect what little water we have.”

California is once again in a statewide drought. San Jose received just 0.3 inches of rain from January through March this year, compared to 11 inches during the same time period in 2019, according to Valley Water. 

Matt Keller, Valley Water spokesperson, said compared with March 2019, water usage increased 30% this March. Keller said residents being overwhelmed by the pandemic, war in Ukraine and inflation may have been distracted from worrying about water conservation, but it’s essential.

“Everybody needs to take action to start conserving now,” he told San José Spotlight. “We’ve endured the driest start to the year ever on record. If we have another dry year, we will be in even more dire circumstances in 2023.” 

Keller said when violation reports come in, the water district will visit sites and provide education before issuing penalties. Sometimes people don’t realize they are wasting water, he said. The cause might be a broken sprinkler.

Keller said water enforcers are needed because Santa Clara County isn’t making enough progress on water savings. San Jose officials recently took steps to tighten water restrictions for new developments.

He said about half the county’s water is used outdoors. This is where the greatest reduction can occur, especially if residents just water lawns two days a week.

“If people just follow that,” Keller said, “we should be able to meet our 15% conservation goal.”

Kirsten Struve, assistant officer for the water supply division of Valley Water, said last June the board called for a 15% mandatory water usage reduction. In April, the board voted unanimously to restrict outdoor watering to no more than two days a week.

Although Santa Clara County is using less water than the state, Struve said it could be doing better. In March, California showed a 19% increase of water usage compared with March 2020, while the county only showed a 5% increase, she said.

“We haven’t seen any water savings this year because it’s been so dry,” Struve told San José Spotlight.

Struve said thirsty lawns take a lot of water to keep green. She recommends letting them brown or replacing them with drought tolerant landscapes. Valley Water has increased rebates for residents to replace lawns during the drought.

The new ordinance will be voted on at Valley Water’s May 24 board meeting.

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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