San Jose looks to bolster conservation efforts amid historic drought

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San Jose officials are hoping this year’s historic drought may bolster one of the city’s key long-term conservation efforts: reusing wastewater.

With the hope of transforming San Jose into a hub of sustainable innovation, the city has been working to reduce energy use, create clean-tech jobs and lower waste, since the inception of Green Vision in 2007. Under the plan, San Jose — a semi-arid city that some years receives only a third the amount of rainfall of other parts of the Bay Area — set an ambitious goal to reuse 100 percent of its wastewater by 2022.

“The current drought underscores the need for California to examine its long-term water supply challenges,” San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed said. The city is working “to pursue innovative ways to increase our use of recycled water throughout the city.”

With the U.S. Drought Monitor reporting that 91.6 percent of California is experiencing severe to exceptional drought, San Jose is also undertaking additional conservation efforts to mitigate the conditions.

“San Jose has always and continues to encourage residents to conserve water,” Cheryl Wessling, a spokesperson for the Environmental Services Department of San Jose said. “With or without a drought, water should be conserved.”

The city currently uses recycled water to irrigate parks, golf courses, schools, street medians and business park landscaping.

In addition, the South Bay Water Recycling system provides water to the Villages Golf & Country Club in San Jose, McCarthy Ranch shopping center in Milpitas and four power plants in the county.

Wessling believes the water goal of the green vision plan has been helpful during the drought. “Every gallon of recycled water used is a gallon of fresh drinking water that is conserved — so yes, absolutely,” she said.

Another way the city is hoping to bolster its water-saving efforts is the Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center, a joint-effort by the City of San Jose and Santa Clara Valley Water District to produce highly purified water. The center has been fully operational since last spring and turns wastewater that otherwise would have been discharged into the San Francisco Bay into up to eight million gallons of purified water a day.

“This is a vital step toward ensuring a reliable water supply for our future,” Wessling said.

While reuse and recycling efforts continue in San Jose, water companies are urging customers to conserve.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District, a wholesale supplier providing water for San Jose’s three water retailers, announced a preliminary 2014 water-reduction target equal to 10 percent of 2013 water use in Santa Clara County.

The district is budgeting an additional $500,000 — on top of $150,000 already allocated — to support public outreach and encourage participation in the district’s 20 water conservation programs. “These funds will help support our water conservation program; as you might imagine, they are getting deluged with requests from the community,” Marty Grimes, spokesperson for the Santa Clara Valley Water District said.

The expanded outreach campaign is slated to include television, radio and online advertisements. Officials are also considering advertising on billboards, buses and in movie theaters, Grimes said. Advertisements will also appear in Spanish, Vietnamese and Chinese.

Though the district has a reserve of local groundwater and imported water, Grimes said that “with so little water in the state’s water system, some imported water allocations will be zero, or very limited,” adding urgency to the outreach campaign.

The district is working closely with water companies to spread the conservation message.

“We encourage our customers to use water wisely,” said John B. Tang, director of government relations and corporate communications at San Jose Water Company, which serves more than one million people in the greater San Jose area. Tang said he’s seen an uptick in consumers asking for free water audits, something they expect to continue if the dry weather persists. The company also offers free low-flow devices to consumers who are keen to conserve.

Still, much more needs to be done, officials said.

“A long-term solution to the ecosystem and water reliability problems in the Delta is needed more than ever,” said Grimes. “Regulatory restrictions in the Delta have been increasing and the state’s water system is not able to capture as much water as in wet years — water needed to sustain us through these difficult drought years,” he added.


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