Water Experts in San Benito County Are Here to Help

Expert advice and free services readily available to achieve water efficiency.

Good I called to reserve a seat at the Drought Workshop Aug. 26 at Paines Restaurant. To a capacity crowd of attentive locals, the hosts kept us riveted with facts and figures that describe the current water situation in our county and ways to save water. Starting with bad news followed by some good, we learned the dissolved salts in our water are very high, indeed; on the other hand, the San Benito County Water Resources Board measures a decrease in water consumption from 212 gallons per capita down to 161 in 2010. The goal is 129 gallons per capita by 2020. Predictably, the water experts seek improved water quality, increased supply, and protection for the groundwater basin. “We’re surviving because of groundwater. It’s the most essential source because it’s ours; we control it,” said Harry Bloom of the Hollister Urban Water Project.

Shawn Novack, who leads the Water Resources Association of San Benito County (WRASBC)*, described impressive achievements in conservation. Starting in 1999, there were 18,000 water-wasting toilets in the county; since then, 7,000 have been replaced with the remaining to be switched out. Similar work is underway to reduce the number of pre-1999 water softeners, high-flow shower heads, and inefficient irrigation systems. WRASBC offers free services, equipment and rebates. For example, they will replace toilets at no cost; and in the case of water softeners they remove and owners do not replace, they will pay up to $300. Yet more than 50 percent of residential water is used for landscape irrigation and half as much again wasted; for this reason, water resources offers rebates for hose timers, rain sensors and irrigation nozzles. Wise landscape plans are free.

From M&M Plants near Spring Grove School, self-described “plant nerd” Marcy Huston showed off attractive drought-resistance plants. Gardeners must know the difference between plants that tolerate full sun (up to six hours daily) and those requiring some amount of shade to thrive. Athena Pratt from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Services talked shop with farmers while the rest of us learned much about ideal irrigation efficiency (85 percent); shifting from orchards to row crops; micro-sprayers in orchards; soil fertility management; irrigation uniformity checks and pressure; moisture and dry-out periods. As lay people, we learned that farmers may even water during rainfall in order to flush out high levels of salts.

Karminder Brown, representing the San Benito Working Landscapes Group, explained that the group reports on events, opportunities, and information related to the protection and enhancement of working ranches and farms in San Benito County. "We work to protect rangeland in San Benito County,” said Brown, “especially as we see the demise of the Williamson Act”. Until 2009, the Act provided ways for counties to conserve land and open space, but in the absence of state subvention (counties keep more property taxes), counties lose incentive to maintain Williamson agreements with land owners. Sign up for the landscapes e-newsletter at the link above; reach Karminder Brown at [email protected]

The workshop and breakfast were sponsored by the San Benito County Chamber of Commerce and Visitors' Bureau, Green Business Committee, FarmHouse Communications, the Water Resources Association of San Benito County, and the National Resource Conservation Service's Hollister Office. Elected officials represented or present were Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velázquez, Councilman Victor Gómez, Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz, and State Senator Anthony Cannella.

The Water Resources Association of San Benito County is focused on water resource management. It represents the cities of Hollister and San Juan Bautista, the Sunnyslope County Water District and the San Benito County Water District. Reach them at 831-637-4378 and www.wrasbc.org.

Learn more about water, drought and resources available to you at BenitoLink. Enter the words "water" and "drought" in the Search box in the upper right of the homepage.


Lois Locci

A Hollisterian since 1999 (and a Silicon Valley escapee), Dr. Locci taught English and Intercultural Communication at De Anza College in Cupertino for years before adding a second career as chair of the education department of UC Extension, providing professional training in four counties and three countries. Also at UC, Dr. Locci led the development of Advanced Placement® and honors courses for the University of California College Prep Online until retiring in 2012. She served a four-year term as Trustee for Gavilan Joint Community College District and currently serves on the board of BenitoLink. She lives with her extended family in "Southside Valley."