Development could halt if drought doesn’t

Sunnyslope Water District manager says if conservation isn't enough, development could be stalled

Sunnyslope County Water District Manager Don Ridenhour told the Board of Supervisors on April 21 that the district — which covers much of south and west Hollister — will "have to grapple with" how many new sewer connections to allow if the drought persists. Such a decision, which could halt development of new housing, could be discussed as soon as this year, he said. But first, the district on Tuesday night was scheduled to join other water districts in considering mandatory water restrictions for its customers.

He said the district plans to limit outdoor irrigation to two days per week and require that new developments use drip irrigation and microspray technology, essentially making traditional lawns "very impractical." He noted that developers of some new projects have indicated that they will not be installing grass when they landscape front yards. Ridenhour also encouraged the board to update its landscape ordinance to help enforce water-wise restrictions in new developments.

Proposed water regulations will include fines for violations. "We hope we don't go there," Ridenhour said. "We hope we see compliance." The district, he added, will also discuss if there will be an excessive water use charge if compliance becomes an issue.

"We're going to be looking at our highest-use customers," Ridenhour said, noting that the district will have "a lot of personal contact with them," to encourage conservation. "If it continues to stay dry and our existing customers are being asked to suffer, we'll have to grapple with how many connections we allow. I don't hope we go to that," he said, as it's "not good for the economy. But if we can't get there … that has to be on the table for consideration."

Mandating the most efficient use of water in new developments "is the best thing your board can do to help a district like Sunnyslope," Ridenhour told supervisors.

Board Chairwoman Margie Barrios said supervisors will support the message of conservation, building on what's already been accomplished through water-saving measures. "We've already made some very great strides," she said, "even though it wasn't mandated."

The use of recycled water was broached, but Ridenhour said the expense of such a project would require raising rates, which he "doesn't relish." 

Ridenhour was joined at the supervisors' meeting by San Benito County Water District Manager Jeff Cattaneo and Shawn Novack of the local Water Resources Association, who both addressed the area's water situation.

Cattaneo said the county is in "relatively good shape" in terms of the amount of water stored in the underground basin below the county, with about 500,000 acre feet of water there. That represents a quarter of the entire capacity of the San Luis Reservoir. Three years ago when the drought began, that basin was full, he noted. That capacity has come down about 10 percent in the past three years.

"We could weather this (drought) for a number of years and still manage our water supply," he said. "It's what comes after that. If you can't get that imported water supply (from the Central Valley Project), don't manage it and stay in deficit, there will be mandatory restrictions on everyone — ag and urban. That's not where we want to go."

To highlight how local water conservation measures have worked, Cattaneo noted how urban water use in the county was 11,000 acre-feet in 2003 but had dropped to 8,850 acre feet in 2013. "We are making progress and we are moving towards being much more efficient."

Novack said drought conditions in California "is the new water reality." He encouraged residents to do what they can in their homes to aid the cause, such as swapping out a high-flow toilet (pre-1992) with a low-flow model that the Water Resources Association will provide for free. He said the association has swapped out almost 8,000 toilets, using 28 percent water in each instance, but that there are about 12,000 high-flow toilets in circulation in the county.

Local restrictions will use a customer's 2013 water use as the baseline for meeting reduction goals, Novack said, suggesting that locals call 637-4378 or visit the Water Resources Association website to learn more about water-saving measures and rebates.


hits 1

Adam Breen

Adam Breen has been a San Benito County resident since 1980 and graduated from Sacred Heart School and San Benito High School before earning a bachelor's degree from California State University, Fresno. A father of two sons, Adam has taught newspaper, English and yearbook at SBHS for the past decade, after six years as a magazine editor for Santa Clara University. He previously was editor of the Hollister Free Lance and content director for BenitoLink.