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The future of water in San Benito County

Water supply is a key factor in the the county's future. Community involvement will help ensure that San Benito County residents will continue to have a safe and sufficient water supply

This article, the second of two parts, is presented by the Water Resources Association San Benito County. It details the recent history of San Benito County's public water system. 

Today, San Benito County Water District manages the groundwater in the San Benito County portion of the Hollister-Gilroy basin, operates the San Benito River System and the San Felipe Distribution System, delivers imported Central Valley Project water to irrigation and municipal and industrial (M&I) customers, and manages recharge through local streams. The district is governed by an elected, five-member board of directors, and administered by the district manager/engineer.

Everyone in the Hollister-San Juan groundwater basin benefits from the imported water because the purchased water helps balance the overall water needs in the basin, is superior in quality to groundwater pumped from local aquifers, and is more conducive to crop growth. Local groundwater has varying levels of salts and high mineral content.

However, our underground aquifers are of utmost importance. Although our groundwater contains a high mineral content, the basin acts as an underground reservoir. Its storage capacity is approximately 500,000 acre-feet of water. For comparisons sake, San Luis Reservoir has a 2 million acre foot capacity. Our three above-ground reservoirs in our county (Hernandez, San Justo and Paicines) hold approximately 31,000 acre-feet combined. 

Due to the drought, we have had very little rainfall or imported water for the past several years.Our groundwater basin has been the main source of our water supply (83 percent). This year’s Groundwater Report (December 2016), shows lowering of water levels throughout most of the basin. Hopefully, this year will be the beginning of a slow recovery from long-term drought. The basin was last full in 2011 and that’s what got us through this recent drought. We need to refill the basin once again with natural rainfall and imported water so that we can have a safeguard against future droughts that are sure to come again. 

That’s why the Hollister Urban Area Water Project (HUAWP) is so important to our future. This is a joint effort by the City of Hollister, the San Benito County Water District and the Sunnyslope County Water District that will be completed by next summer. 

The main goal is to improve drinking water quality for residents and businesses in the entire Hollister Urban Area. This will also help meet wastewater discharge requirements and protect the groundwater basin by having better quality wastewater. The project also produces a high quality recycled water for agricultural customers. This adds to our local water supply.

This plan represents the ongoing efforts to protect and maintain a reliable water supply. Each generation has had their way of improving and maintaining our water system. As we move into the future, sustainability is key.

To read Part 1 of this series on local water, click here.




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Shawn Novack's picture
Shawn Novack (Shawn Novack)

Shawn Novack is the director of the Water Resources Association of San Benito County. The Association represents the City of Hollister, the City of San Juan Bautista, the Sunnyslope County Water District and the San Benito County Water District for all their water conservation and water resource protection programs. Shawn has been in the field of water conservation for 16 years. He has a certification as a Water Conservation Practioner from the American Water Works Association California/Nevada Chapter. He also is a Certified Landscape Irrigation Auditor through the Irrigation Association in Virginia. Before getting into the water industry, Shawn worked as a technical writer for the Naval Research Center in Monterey.


Submitted by Will McGuire (Conrad Condor) on

What is needed is ideas and good proposals for protecting the water basin going forward, measure J did it's job for defending it from wastewater injections but now a huge threat is looming from the possible leasing of BLM lands for mineral or petroleum explorations, should that threat be eliminated somehow, there is still the continuing pollution from agricultural entities, the question needs to be addressed if agricultural pollution from grazing animals and improper fertilizer uses can somehow be curtailed, can other crops be grown that doesn't need soil adjustments, such as perhaps Hemp?, Needed is input from agricultural experts how other types of crops can be grown here in this area, any progress will demand change. If nothing is done now, it's reasonable to expect that more costly solutions will be demanded in the future, let's get it done!

From KQED last summer (2016):

Within less than a year, as many as 50,000 marijuana growers in California could be required to obtain state permits for the irrigation water they consume. It is an unprecedented step aimed at preventing harm to the environment and other water users resulting from the rapid growth of marijuana cultivation in the state.

“Most of them are operating below the radar,” said Cris Carrigan, chief of enforcement at the State Water Resources Control Board. “As a result, we’ve gotten ourselves into an acute problem with streamflow and pollution associated with these activities.”

This new ability to regulate water for marijuana growing is a result of SB 837, a state law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on June 27. It’s a budget trailer bill, which specifies numerous operating details of the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, signed into law on October 9, 2015.


This is another danger from the estimated >100 illegal/unregistered grows in the county.  Only 25 growers registered as required be new county regulations.  We need enforcement to stop those stealing public and private water and causing pollution by runoff.

Marty Richman

Submitted by Will McGuire (Conrad Condor) on

Mr. Richman, your typical MO is to muddy the waters to steer the conversation to where you want to make your point, whatever that is, in no instance did I mention illegal Marijuana farms, Hemp is a industrial fiber plant with other possible uses, in many areas it grows like weeds with little water or chemical additives, it is a low maintenance crop compared to a lot of crops now grown here in San Benito County, I understand the concept of Highest and best uses of the land but that doesn't always mean the best for the environment, including availability of the water, there will in the future be more dry years, perhaps more multiple years of drought when perennial crops such as vineyards and orchards will have their irrigation water rationed to protect the aquifers, even though just mentioning that in this county is tantamount to heresy, The previous several years of drought should be understood that we have reached, or even passed the limits of available water uses without importation from other places, but where? It's now known that the central Valley water resource has also reached it's limits as well.

Mr. McGuire,

I'm with you on water conservation, but why is it mudding the waters (good term on a water issue) to bring up the use of water and pollution already impacting the county from illegal marijuana crops? There was a reason the state legislature passed a bill aimed at this problem, it's a big deal.  Since "legal" medical marijuana crops will have the appropriate permits and protections they are much less of a problem; that's obvious.

The illegal cultivated grows are not "growing like weeds" and they are not for the industrual use of hemp, please do not insult my intettigeence or your own. If you want to exempt illegal marijuana grows and the accompanying pilfering or diversion of water and the documented pollution from your personal definition of water issues, just say so.  I don't think it's an logical or defensible position, but everyone has an opinion.

To paraphrase Orwell all crops are equal, but some crops are more equal than others.  Selecting the right crops based on water availability is one of the fundemental steps in water conservation as related to the state's big user - agriculture.  Surely everyone knows that.

Here is a good little article and a great line, "Amid California’s worsening drought, almonds have become the Kardashian of crops, demonized for extravagantly consuming 10 percent of the state’s agricultural water supply."

I expect that your take on almost any issue will be different than mine - you should expect the same.

Marty Richman

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