Water storage is essential for the future of our county

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Local water conservation efforts played a huge role in helping San Benito County cope with the mega-drought.

This column was written by Shawn Novack, water conservation program manager for the San Benito County Water Resources Association. Opinions expressed do not necessarily represent BenitoLink or other affiliated contributors. BenitoLink invites all members of the community to share their ideas and opinions. By registering as a BenitoLink user at the top right corner of our homepage and agreeing to follow our Terms of Service, you can write counter opinions or share your thoughts on current issues.

We are again at a time of transition for water in our community. San Benito County is growing, and our water supply must be resilient enough to accommodate both projected population growth while providing a reliable water supply for existing local agricultural, residential, and commercial uses. At the same time, precipitation and snowfall patterns in California are becoming less stable. Thus, continuing to provide a reliable and affordable water supply is becoming increasingly difficult. Climatologists have said the west is in a “mega-drought”, which is defined as a prolonged drought lasting two decades or more.

At this point, San Benito County residents have answered the call to save water. Local water conservation efforts played a huge role in helping San Benito County cope with the mega-drought. The Hollister urban area has seen its water use drop from 220 gallons per person per day in the late 1990s to 117 gallons per person per day in 2020. This decrease in water use has been facilitated by a combination of state and local water conservation legislation, education programs, and rebate programs for water-efficient plumbing fixtures and turf removal. Unfortunately, you can only conserve so much, and conservation alone will not be enough to maintain the long-term resilience of San Benito County’s water supply.

In response, local water agencies are evaluating alternatives to improve long-term water supply reliability by increasing water storage capacity in San Benito County. This would allow the county to import and store more water during wet years, which will improve the county’s ability to maintain a reliable supply during long periods of drought. San Benito County’s largest source of imported surface water is from the Central Valley Project (CVP), and it also imports water purchased on the open market. Since connecting to CVP in the 1980s, the San Benito County Water District (SBCWD) has successfully managed our local water supply using CVP water, other purchased water, and now recycled water to balance entrances and exits in northern San Benito County. Underground basin. However, prolonged periods of drought have meant that imported water has become more variable and less reliable. Thus, having the flexibility to store imported water in years when it is abundant is essential to maintaining a resilient water supply over the long term.

Some potential alternatives to the storage project involve using the local groundwater basin for storage. When people think of water storage, most think of dams or reservoirs. However, another way to store water is to put it in the ground for future withdrawal. The North San Benito County Groundwater Pond is the largest source of stored water in San Benito County. The North San Benito County Groundwater Basin acts as a water savings account – it helps bridge the gap between years of imported water shortages and years of heavy rainfall and snow accumulation. in California are more abundant.

Other alternatives consist in increasing the local surface storage capacity. The two most likely candidates for expansion are the San Luis Reservoir and the Pacheco Reservoir. Both projects would be led by agencies outside of San Benito County, with the SBCWD having the option of participating on a partial basis.

Choosing the right storage projects to implement at the right time will involve balancing between ensuring long-term water supply reliability and continuing to keep the cost of water as affordable as possible. Two ways to achieve this are to build projects using phased approaches that allow for expansion as demand increases, another is to maximize available grants to help reduce the cost burden on ratepayers and local ratepayers. Whatever projects go ahead, the cost-benefit ratio will be the determining factor in the decision-making process and continued continued coordination between local water agencies will be essential to ensure that the needs water supply needs in San Benito County are met with coordinated regional solutions.

For more information, residents are encouraged to review the San Benito Urban Areas Water Supply and Treatment Master Plan 2022 (Master Plan), which is expected to be released in the coming months. This master plan is an update of the 2008 Hollister Urban Area Water and Wastewater Master Plan and is a collaborative effort between SBCWD, San Benito County, City of Hollister, District of Sunnyslope County Waters and a new partner – the City of San Juan Bautista.

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