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California's drought: South Bay's Chesbro Dam reaches zero percent capacity

Getting water near the Chesbro and Uvas Dam has become increasingly difficult for local home owners. One resident Roxy Brocco said, “My grandfather use to live here, and I’ve lived here for more than forty years.” Despite local access to creeks and stream runoff during the winter months Brocco said, “We don’t get our water from Santa Clara County. We get ours from a well”. Brocco said, "At the time they dug our well, it was only drilled down thirty feet.”

Brothers Carlos and Torrino Gonzales work on landscaping project setting up a landscaping pumping system to abstract water from ground well located on site.
Brothers Carlos and Torrino Gonzales work on landscaping project setting up a landscaping pumping system to abstract water from ground well located on site.
Amy Nilson
Chesbro Dam reaches zero capacity
Amy Nilson

Torino Gonzales said, “Older more traditional storage tanks were being used to hold water, but now residence here are choosing to install wider and shallower tanks”. Gonzales said. Carlos and Torino have been working for several months installing a well water pumping system that will be used to water drought tolerant plants used around the home.

"Water is provided by the city to home owners", Gonzales said. However, with such a high cost from 600-800 dollars a month for water and utilities, the cost reaches beyond what users have expected to pay in the past.

“The cost of water is extremely expensive, that is why the home owner wants to put in these two storage tanks to help reduce the water costs,” Gonzales said. The line connects to a well and then automatically pumps in the water. The storage tanks hold 5000 gallons each for a total of 10,000 gallons to be used for landscaping needs throughout the summer months.

“Right now we only pump water in when we need it,” Brocco said. Despite access to new technologies to dig a deeper well, Surveyors have said there is no water. “In the summer when there is no more water, and when my animals start drinking more it will hurt,” Brocco said.

California's current water shortage is adding and increased stress on local water users who rely heavily on local water supplies for their livestock.

With 50% of the water used from the Chesbro and Uvas Reservoirs directly sent to irrigate crops and farmland throughout the Gilroy area, the call for conservation by Gov. Brown has little effect.

“When our well is empty we have to haul water in when we run out,” Brocco said. “We ran out the last two, or three months now,” Brocco said.

The last few years has been when Brocco has had to call in water trucks to fill a large water tank used in the summer time to water her live stock.

The truck connects to a pipe and then pushes the water into the storage tank. “We use out of that,” she said. “I have two champion sheep that I show”. Brocco said, “If worse comes to worse, I will have to take them to the auction. I just hope I don’t have to go there, but I mean if we have no water,”

The state is projecting an allocation of zero water for 2014. The State Water Project’s principal reservoir is Lake Oroville, but there are other lakes and reservoirs that are part of the state water system.

The impact of the State Water Project allocation is not felt immediately. In fact, it’s not the final allocation. It could change based on what happens the rest of the winter. The state set its projected allocation at 0 percent of what water agencies requested. Allocation is down from an initial forecast of 5 percent in 2013.

There is still some water being delivered because many water agencies have carryover water from last year that has not yet been delivered. The drought has drastically reduced storage areas that the Santa Clara Water District has begun to use water from three waste water treatment plants in order to meet the needs of its customers.

The Chesbro Reservoir is now low enough to show an old cement bridge that use to lead to Willow Springs Road once used as a main leading to San Jose, Calif. “You go about half-way through the damn where Willow spring road goes to the right. You look down to your left and you will see a cement bridge down in the water,” Brocco said.

Victor Liberatore who has lived in the area for more than 42 years said, “I have seen it worse than this back in 1975 – 1976".

The levels of the Uvas Reservoir in Unincorporated Santa Clara County reveal that back in 1973 the Chesbro held only 250 acre-feet. The lowest levels were recorded on March 3, 1977 with 103.64 acre feet of storage.

Despite some measurable rain fall from Jan – Feb of 2014, precipitation from winter storms delivered fewer acre feet of water than expected. According to the Santa Clara Water District’s records, before a brief storm hit the Chesbro only held 907 acre-feet increasing to 919 acre-feet after a brief rain storm.

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