San Jose Considers Emergency Drought Ordinance

San Jose may enact water-rationing measures to cope with the state’s dogged drought. Under the emergency ordinance up for consideration at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, residents will have to forgo watering their yards with potable water during the day.

Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency in January, urging the state to cut water use by 20 percent. A State Water Board mandate followed, threatening a $10,000-a-day fine on municipal water systems for violating emergency regulation.

The local ordinance up for review would echo the governor’s order, demanding a 20-percent cut in citywide water use for the duration of the drought.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD)—the wholesale provider for three water retailers in San Jose—already advised 20 percent cut in water usage for the county.

In addition to the mandates for urban water suppliers, the state board also banned using potable water for outdoor landscapes if it causes runoff, washing down sidewalks and driveways, car-washing with a hose (unless there’s a shutoff nozzle) and running a fountain unless the water re-circulates.

A group of council members put out a related memo that takes the long view. While the cutback will get San Jose through the current drought, local water agencies should explore ways to replenish groundwater with recycled water.

“The next step lies in replenishing underground aquifers with highly purified, recycled water,” according to the memo signed by council members Rose Herrera, Madison Nguyen, Kansen Chu and Sam Liccardo. “While it takes some public education to overcome the ‘yuck’ factor, recharging potable water supplies with highly purified recycled water is hardly new.”

San Jose should strike up a partnership with the SCVWD to build a facility that would replenish groundwater basins with highly purified recycled water, the memo recommends. The recent opening of the Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center “sets the stage,” they say, with the production of 8 million gallons per day of drinkable recycled water.

Right now, the city supplements existing water supply with 14 million gallons a day of recycled wastewater. The city’s sewage plant cleans water for re-use by commercial customers for landscaping and industrial uses.

“The potential for expanding the recycling effort long appeared limited by the use of the water for industrial purposes,” the memo says.

Orange County has replenished groundwater with recycled wastewater since 1976. El Paso has since 1985, as have some cities on the East Coast.

“Nationally, however, these examples are not common, and the process requires considerable capital investment,” council members say.

The city could also use some $500,000 set aside for conservation measures to start a youth corps to help the city and the district enforce their water-saving goals.

Also, unlike Santa Cruz, which imposed heavy fines and a “water school” for ration violators, some of San Jose’s city leaders want to create a recognition program to reward water-savers. In Santa Cruz, residents are banned from filling hot tubs and swimming pools. (Or, if they do fill a hot tub, they’re ordered to take fewer showers).

Those purple pipes that carry recycled water might not be the most efficient infrastructure either, the memo continues.

“That is, there is redundancy in our current approach of distributing recycled water in a segregated system from the potable water supply,” the council members write. “We have built out an extensive, 142-mile ‘purple pipe’ system to serve commercial users with our recycled water. lf we hold fast to the belief that recycled water should be segregated from drinking water for all time, we will spend a lot of money purifying water that will be used to water landscape. We'll spend even more money expanding the ‘purple pipe’ infrastructure, installing dual plumbing in buildings, and operating separate distribution systems, all at the expense of ratepayers, builders, and property owners.”

Meanwhile, researchers have found that the drought is so bad, it’s literally moving mountains. A new study out of Scripps Institution of Oceanography found that the Sierra Nevadas rose 15 millimeters this year because there’s less water in the ground.

Rising ground level isn't in and of itself devastating. What's devastating is how quickly our reservoirs are being depleted. NASA released satellite images of reservoirs to illustrate the withering effect of California's historic water shortage, the worst on record in 119 years.

Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 9.28.29 AM

The difference two years can make.

More from the San Jose City Council agenda for Aug. 26, 2014:

  • The city will have to re-budget some capital improvement projects, including new construction on The Alameda and upgrades to the police headquarters.
  • A proposed ordinance would prevent a council member “from participating in a matter if he or she is the subject of that matter, or represents or supervises a person who is a party to that matter.”
  • Councilman Xavier Campos asked the city to enact a three-year moratorium on any new taxi companies working at the airport. A staff analysis, however, found that the city’s taxicab market has room to grow. “Placing a moratorium on new companies reduces the incentive or need for existing companies to compete, market their services, and develop their business,” city staff responded.

WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. So let me see if I have this right: I consume water that I purchase from San Jose Water Company which is a Publicly Traded Company (New York Stock Exchange symbol SJW). and is in no way shape or form part of the City Government and not governed by the City Council. The City Council is now going attempt to regulate when, where, why, and how much I use of something I pay for (own)?

    • Water is water and there is only so much that we all share to live, so screw your abstract concept of ownership. Regulate away…

      • > Water is water and there is only so much that we all share to live, so screw your abstract concept of ownership. Regulate away

        Pure tribalist attitude: “The tribe owns everything and the tribe will be FAIR”.

        It will be “fair” as long as you’re useful. If you’re an old eskimo woman and can’t chew whale blubber any more, the tribe will put you on an ice floe and wave bye-bye.

        So screw your primitive concept of tribal fairness.

      • Regulate away…

        Agreed. Regulate the flow of immigrants into this country.
        Then, if we must ration water, set a limit of a certain number of gallons per household based upon the number of legal residents in that household.

        I’ve picked my tribe.
        It’s called the United States. It’s a good tribe and it’s worth preserving and defending.

  2. It is my understanding that in past droughts the City imposed a blanket 25% reduction in residential water use, based on water use history at each residence. Although relatively easy to monitor and enforce, doing the same this time would be extraordinarily unfair. For example, if User A has been a historically profligate water user, 75% would still provide more water than needed. On the other hand, if User B has historically used the minimum amount for basic needs, 75% would be insufficient to meet those basic needs. In short, such a program would punish the water saver, and reward the water waster.

    It would be fairer to achieve the 20% reduction goal by sufficient regulation of particular uses.

    At the same time, the City should do some long range water supply and demand planning. By the time the next big drought comes, can we hope to have enough water for all the people who will be moving in to the thousands of apartments presently under construction?

    • I have always been conscious of conserving water and even changed out my landscape so that minimal water is necessary. If they levy a 25% reduction, I won’t be able to use enough water to meet my daily needs. They are going to have to come up with a plan that targets the excessive users and not punish those who already conserve.

  3. Drought is an act of nature.

    Water shortage is a one hundred percent politician caused problem.

    The Romans knew how to build aqueducts. The ancient Egyptians knew how to move water from the Nile to fields.

    “If we can put a man on the moon, we can . . . ” Oh, nevermind.

    There are people in Oregon, Washington, and Canada with excess water.

    There are people in California willing to pay good money for more water.

    There are people in between California and the Pacific Northwest perfectly willing to facilitate the transit of water for cash.

    Let’s make a deal!

    California could be the food basket of the entire planet. Californians could have the highest standard of living in the world.

    The problem is that there are people who want just the opposite.

    Stanford University professor Paul Ehrlich for one. The author of “The Population Bomb” uncharitably believes there are “too many people”. Too many people in California. Too many people everywhere.

    Some of you need to go away. Realistically, MOST of you need to go away. Maybe if you didn’t have any water, you would get the hint.

  4. Drove by William Cilker Park Sat on my way to Oakridge Mall – That grass was so green it hurt my eyes. WHY are the parks not a little browner?

  5. Since it is quite clear that as population grows and the amount of water available remains static, these water conservation measures should be permanent

  6. As long as rich farmers grow almonds in Fresno, and there’s green golf courses in Palm Springs, I’m going to continue putting 15 gallons on my lawn every night.

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