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California’s State of Emergency: Diverting California’s water supply

Sam Manivanh and Ron Narnj had come to Chesbro Dam to catch Big Mouth Bass. However, on this trip to the dam they reported catching zero fish as compared to last year with when they would have already caught dozens of fish. “I remember when the water was way up there close to the roadway,” Narnj said. “Now the water is way down here”. This time around Narnj said, “We haven’t caught any fish”.

The compelling evidence that California is experiencing a drought is that the Chesbro, Uvas and Lexington reservoir watersheds are expected to dry up without increased snow pack in the Sierra Mountains.
Amy Nilson

Hirshi Kaeowaki who came to work in the Bay Area from Japan tried his hand at what lurked in the depths of the Chesbro. Kaeowaki found Chesbro Dam by using his Iphone to search for fishing hot spots in the area. “Last time I was here the water was seven or eight meters higher,” Kaeowaki said. Throwing his line as he anxiously awaited a nip at his line. Kaeowaki cast again. “I have been fishing all of my life," Kaeowaki said. However, with a few hours of casting behind him, he began to wonder when the best time of day was to catch any type of fish at the dam.

The compelling evidence that California is experiencing a drought is that the Chesbro, Uvas and Lexington reservoir watersheds are expected to dry up without increased snow pack in the Sierra Mountains. The lowest level of water recorded was in 1977 when all of Californians were forced to ration their water.

California’s Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. during the 2014 state of address said, “Ensuring safe and sufficient water supplies for the 21st century requires significant investments in our water infrastructure and natural ecosystems.” California has a large and diverse eco-system that is being strained by drought.

With the lowest amount of rainfall recorded this year, California’s water agencies have begun to offset drought conditions through induced groundwater recharge. “We need everyone in every part of the state to conserve water,” Governor Brown said. “As the State Water Action Plan lays out, water recycling, expanded storage and serious groundwater management must all be part of the mix”.

Beau Goldie, chief executive officer, Santa Clara Valley Water District, encourages local and public participation to help increase their water efficiency by 20%. It is recomended that conservation begin through the purchase of new technologies reducing water consumption.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District offers a free Water-Wise House Call Program, in connection with water conservation-related rebates for homes and businesses.

Water transfers diverting water in times of drought is generally a common practice. It is most commonly used to help protect water quality and accessibility for local and state water resources. According to State regulators, these types of water transfers are occurring in order to re-balance water tables and enable voluntary transfers of water to help offset California’s drought conditions.

Marty Grimes Program Administrator for the Santa Clara Water District said, “We are currently releasing water from Chesbro and Uvas reservoirs for water supply and environmental purposes”. Without rain water storage areas such as the Uvas-Llagas Watershed, water levels will continue to fallow record lows.

Grimes said, “Local precipitation is the only source of water for these two reservoirs”.

California’s water shortage has largely impacted areas that require captured water in order to stabilize recreational and farming areas during a drought year. “That means that the water released is intended to a) keep the creeks below them viable for fish and other habitat, as much as possible and b) to replenish the groundwater supply,” Grimes said.

According to the Santa Clara Water District, “50% of water use in the Uvas-Llagas is for agricultural purposes. “We make decisions about the operations of these reservoirs in consultation with the state and federal fishery agencies,” Grimes said.

Even with rain in the forecast, both reservoirs would need a lot more rain to replenish the surrounding area. Grimes said, “Both reservoirs are at very low levels due to the extremely dry conditions we have seen since the beginning of 2013”.

The Chesbro Reservoir holds approximately 8,952 acre feet. However with less than 94% of its total capacity, more than 2,607,348,000 gallons have been diverted to help offset Uvas-Llagas Watershed shortage during the last few winter months. The elevation level of Chesbro Reservoir at 483.60 as of Jan 27, 2013, now only holds 954 acre feet or approximately 9.38% of its original intended capacity.

Despite a previous rain storm Grimes said the levels at the reservoir water levels showed next to nothing. “The rain was too light and the ground to parched to get any runoff into Chesbro,” Grimes said.

Even with rain in the forecast, the capacity is not expected to change without snow melt replacing exposed areas. Until then water will continue to be scarce in the area affecting hundreds of residence throughout the South Bay/Gilroy area.