‘Triple Threat:’ Santa Clara County Leaders Prep for Drought, Wildfire and Bad Air Quality

In commemoration of Earth Day, Santa Clara County leaders gathered to share how the county is preparing for what they call an environmental “triple threat,” and what residents can do to get ahead of it.

The triple threat at hand: drought, wildfires and bad air quality.

And they are all interconnected.

With the low amounts of rain fall, the region faces looming threats of drought, which increases threats of wildfires, which in turn, impacts air quality.

“We’re already on the offense in all three areas,” County Supervisor Cindy Chavez said. “We’re trying to do is get ahead of the problems because we know we know we can’t go through what we did last year.”

But Chavez, along with other leaders from County Fire, Santa Clara Valley Water and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, fear that this year my be the worst yet.

This is because Northern California is experiencing its third driest year on record, with only 66% of its average snowpack.

“Eight of the last 10 years have been below average rainfalls and fuels have had little time to recover,” said Santa Clara County Fire Battalion Chief Mike Matheson. “Drought conditions and changing climate have caused more intense and longer dry seasons, suppressing vegetation, and has made our states susceptible to devastating wildfires.”

A display showing how to prepare for wildfire smoke rests against the Saratoga Fire Department's Rescue 73 located at the Santa Clara County Fire Station in Saratoga, Calif on April 22. (Jana Kadah/Bay City News)

Matheson said last year’s wildfire season was a perfect example of the impacts of climate change. The CZU Lightning Complex, which burned in Santa Clara County’s east foothills, ranked third in the state’s worst wildfires.

By mid-November of 2020, the region experienced 900 wildfires that year, Chavez said.

“Depending on where we get our starts, I would expect to see the same type of fire behavior, aggressive fire behavior and heavier fuels, early in the season,” Matheson said.

That means wild-fire season could start as early as the first week of May and last until November.

To get ahead of the potentially devastating impacts, the state and CalFire created a new evacuation system called Zone Haven that would help residents know how close they are to threats like wildfire, mudslides or even an active shooter, the best evacuation routes and locate the nearest evacuation centers.

Zone Haven is expected to be ready for Santa Clara County by mid-Summer, Matheson said.

County fire is also offering resources to help residents prepare for the event of a fire or evacuation.

“Despite the extensive and coordinated efforts underway to protect and prepare our community, we cannot do this alone,” County Fire Spokesperson Luisa Rapport said.

Rapport urged residents to take advantage of county fire resources sign up for county fire webinars and Santa Clara County Alerts as well as sign up for the “nationally recognized Ready Set Go program that takes residents through the simple steps necessary to prepare their homes and their families for wildfire.”

Matt Keller, a spokesperson for Santa Clara Valley Water, also said residents’ actions in the next months were paramount in stopping the county from falling into a drought.

This week, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a drought in Sonoma and Mendocino counties and put water restrictions on other counties that were close to being in a drought.

Santa Clara County is still in the clear for now, but if water levels continue to decrease, Valley Water could also place water use restrictions or hike up prices.

So, to prevent all those things, the water district offers several rebate and incentive programs, found at watersavings.org, to help residents reduce water consumption, stop leaks that waste water and make showers, washing machines and even lawns more drought ready.

Keller noted that already those programs have been proven effective. Since the county’s last drought in 2017, residents were able to reduce water consumption by 20%.

Santa Clara Valley Water has also invested in better technology and infrastructure.

Keller pointed specifically to the Anderson dam seismic retrofit project that will keep residents safe from overflow or flooding and will increase the county’s water storage capacity.

“That’s important because we have to bring a lot of water inside Santa Clara County to meet demands here and make sure that our groundwater supplies are healthy,” Keller said. “We import, about 50% of our water here.”

So better infrastructure means more water storage and more efficient water delivery to residents.

Jack Broadbent, Chief Executive Officer, Bay Area Air Quality Management District speaks to the media gathered at the Santa Clara County Fire Station in Saratoga, Calif., on April 22, 2021. (Jana Kadah/Bay City News)

A similar kind of work is also happening at the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, its CEO Jack Broadbent said.

Broadbent said the district developed a comprehensive strategy to reduce the impacts of wildfires and subsequent smoke, called the Wildfire Air Quality Response Program.

Part of that program was lobbying the state to support legislation that provides local governments with funding to ventilation projects and clean air centers for vulnerable populations, which recently passed.

“Approximately $5 million will be made available to cities, school districts in impacted communities, county emergency management authorities and disaster response organizations,” Broadbent said. “These will be instrumental in protecting public health in our most vulnerable populations.”

Broadbent also noted a recent partnership with Red Cross to provide better air filtration to wildfire evacuation centers.

The air district also teamed up with the Regional Asthma Prevention Management Program to provide filtration units to MediCal recipients with asthma.

And Santa Clara County Supervisors are launching a very similar initiative as well.

This week, supervisors unanimously voted to create a $10 million air filtration grant program that would provide air filtration systems and installation services to small businesses and nonprofits impacted by Covid.

Chavez, who proposed the grant idea, said she hopes it will be ready for people to apply by June.

Wildfire resources by County Fire can be found at https://www.sccfd.org.

County Fire’s Ready Set Go Program will take place on April 27 from 6:30 to 8pm on Zoom. Residents can register online.


  1. Everyone forgot the 4th threat: Further lockdowns later this year by Gavin Newsom and Ms. Cody if Gavin’s recall isn’t successful. Flu season will be here soon. We’ll need to bring back talk of twindemics and contact tracing, social distancing and bubbles and all the other garbage science.

    Count my family out.

  2. Last year’s wildfire season was an example of climate change??! That’s laughable. They’ll say anything to place blame elsewhere for the lives cut short, and all the damage caused by fires that could have been prevented. Blame mismanagement, neglect, and poor Government leadership.

  3. Except we don’t have to make stuff up anymore. Ms. Cody even noticed after the first three weeks of lockdowns and masks that “nothing has changed”. Those were her words. So her solution was just do more of the heartless and fruitless things that destroyed so many businesses and the future for many of our children not to mention the mental anguish placed upon kids who haven’t seen any of their friends in over a year. You completely ignore the fact that Texas and Florida that don’t use the masks and largely didn’t shutdown have the same health result as California.

    You can call it social control but I call it a criminal act and governors and health directors should be held personally criminally and financially accountable for the destruction caused at their hands. Further, we need mandatory science, physics and math classes for all MDs and medical professionals so that they can begin to see the absurdity of all the dumb things we’ve been asked to do. Right now MDs simply lack the proper education to make “social distancing” and “masking” orders. Some day soon hopefully we’ll see lawyers taking up class action lawsuit against every one who made promises that any random facial covering will protect people from a virus or from anything at all really.

    We’re finally starting to see real scientists come out after a year of hiding. For a while, I actually thought we didn’t have any scientists left in the world. Fortunately, that’s not true. And if you read their studies they come close to mocking all the ridiculously stupid things we been do like setting up little pieces of plexiglass and so on.


    We’ll see more and more real studies and MDs will quickly try to talk their way out of the pickle they’ve got themselves into possibly using your social control argument. Fortunately for the rest of us, people have grown tired of all the catastrophizing and we’re just moving on. You can stay home, wear a mask when alone in your car and shut down you own business if you want to. The rest of us choose not to. Gavin found that out the hard way.

  4. Climate politics are just that, politics overwhelmingly, little and misused science.

    There is no climate crisis or emergency, and radical measures as sought for the population explosion in the 1960s weren’t needed then and aren’t needed now for the latest version of the coming environmental apocalypse, no matter what the puritanical fundamentalist zealots (as with other subjects on college campuses and elsewhere, and with including “Woke” causes now) or cult-like people say.

    If the climate changes and we suffer from it, the normal adapt, just as if we benefit. There is no alarm, panic, or continued desire for weird policy goals.

    Future threats to water supply can be met with boosting supply as a main resort. Conservation can’t do it alone any more than with electricity and only idiots will say various agricultural productions can magically be moved out of state. Most water use is environmental and that can be changed. As with so much else in such places and with such people, the real problems are political, not technical.

  5. I don’t have time to read the whole thing you wrote but you do raise an interesting question. If we still have to wear masks, stand on silly dots six feet apart, can’t go back to school, continue to have to adjust to a “new normal”… and if you can catch and spread the virus as some MDs say you can even after vaccination (not to mention the dangerous variants) just what is the point of being vaccinated?

    I think everyone should, of course, follow the advice of their doctors but it is time for all of the catastrophizing on steroids that we’ve done for the last year to end.

  6. Getting the vaccine or not seems like such a trivial if not trite point when the topic of question is delivered with almost religious fervor (by all parties) and either blindly/naively optimistic or with a jaded and cynical ‘doom and gloom’ arguments. Any discourse to be had is so divisive and polarized it has become by default a recitation of poorly communicated or perhaps even deliberately misdirected statements of information that have been intermixed with multiple discussion areas each with their own individual range of subtopics all varying in degree of related importance, (you have to ask yourself… why am I even here spending time on such a cyclical and non productive activity?) Just a few of these digressions that I’ve seen from skimming through the colorful commentary are so spread across a wide spectrum they can almost be seen as some kind of newtonian law of trolls and anonymous internet commenting: mutual understanding and agreement cannot be created or destroyed on the internets. As an example go look at the commentary here or in other related articles and just for sh**s and giggles see if you can extract any of the same central themes that demonstrate what I am saying… ie quality of life, pursuit of happiness, individual freedom to act and behave based on your personal beliefs and values, suppression of individual freedom to act and behave on your personal beliefs and values, disease and-demics, drought, famine, nourishment in all forms, life expectancy, human induced climate change, geologically ‘naturally’ induced climate change, space travel, modern technology, capitalism, socialism, communism, and any other ism, economy macro or micro, race, evolution, justice, truth, discrimination, lies, conspiracy, powers outside of our control, powers within our control, etc etc, the list can go on like this forever. Why over complicate this – I ask any of you – scientifically backed or not – why would you decide to NOT get vaccinated? Is there some great (and demonstrably provable) value and benefit you gain by NOT getting the vaccine? And further to that point, to address the ‘doom and gloom’ argument surmising that the vaccines aren’t proven – to quote Peter Griffin on this ‘C’mon!’ – the dismissive and almost reflexive counter to that enormously short-sided point of view is obvious: the vaccine effectiveness isn’t DISPROVEN either, this is a zero sum argument until we have gone through more flu cycles and more (or better) data has been collected. Period, end of story – it’s pointless to even argue this and if you want to roll the dice by choosing for or against getting vaccinated then that’s YOUR choice (free country last I checked) and I wish you good luck on your journey with that.

    Me personally – I am not an accountant, or a physicist, or a mathematician, or statistician, or a Doctor Jim, or a politician, or a lobbyist, nor am I religious (institutionally speaking), or… my point is – WHO CARES ABOUT ALL THAT?!

    Dumb it down, keep it simple stupid, and look for ways to understand one another, learn from one another, be open to ideas you might have closed yourself to – (try) not creating waves and obstacles, or engage in ‘one-upmanship’, or prevent others from voicing or even having different opinions – THAT is what we should all be focused on – think of this as a ‘new age of enlightenment’ where we have opportunities to shed some of our problematic habits, a chance to learn from the infinite number of ways we have failed in the past – I think we (human race) have some evolutionary tools and perhaps even advantages in that department – why not use them?

    ABOVE ALL ELSE, is it not possible to try and think about any of our common struggles in the ‘we’ and not the ‘me’? It is my general opinion that we’ll get through our current and future struggles just like we always have because we are preprogrammed/hardwired to adapt and overcome adversity for the benefit of the species. And if I’m wrong and there really is no perceived value or benefit from working together then oh well I’m wrong (hasn’t been the first time and won’t be the last time) and I guess we can cross that bridge if we get to it… the is one undeniable and proven fact to extrapolate here: we all bleed the same color, and we all end up dying some day – impossible to escape those truths. So why all the fuss to complicate life – its already complicated enough no need to make it more so :)

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