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Droughts and water shortages unlikely to affect Mountain View's rapid housing and job growth

A development along California Street between San Antonio Road and Pachetti Way in Mountain View. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Water agencies and cities across the Bay Area are preparing for another significant drought, bringing back mandatory water rationing and raising all-too-familiar concerns over dwindling water supplies.

And while the recent dry spell will mean shorter showers and yellow lawns, California's latest drought emergency doesn't appear to be a factor in Mountain View's plans to grow over the next two decades. With the backdrop of two successive dry winters and statewide drought declarations, city officials believe water demand is still low and flexible enough to support a vast increase in new residents and jobs.

City Council members are expected Tuesday to approve the city's Urban Water Management Plan, a key document detailing how Mountain View plans to provide enough water for residents in the face of uncertainty. Droughts are getting worse, likely as a result of climate change, and water providers for Mountain View like the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) are raising alarm bells over future supply shortages exceeding 50%.

Meanwhile, the city's population is expected to balloon by 47% to 117,000 residents by 2045, along with a similar spike in employment of 28% to 126,000 jobs. Demand for water will likely increase by 35% over that period, according to city staff. Housing currently soaks up a majority of the city's water use at 58%, followed by irrigation at 24%.

Despite the dual threat of extended droughts and growing demand, the plan shows positive signs that suggest Mountain View can handle both. The first sign is that Mountain View, in general, uses less water today than it did in past years regardless of steady population growth. Historical water use peaked in the 1980s at over 16,000 "acre feet" per year, or about 5.2 billion gallons, compared to just 9,856 acre feet today.

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The second sign is that Mountain View has a strong track record of ratcheting down water consumption in the face of droughts. Water use plummeted between 2013 and 2015 amid a historic drought and tight restrictions on water use and irrigation. City officials say Mountain View achieved a whopping 29% reduction in water use during the peak of the recent drought, and that water use has yet to return to 2013 levels.

Even in the face of growth, Mountain View's water usage has largely declined. Courtesy city of Mountain View.

The question looming over the plan, however, is whether the SFPUC is going to close the spigot. The regional water supplier, which accounts for 84% of Mountain View's water, is taking an unusually conservative approach to drought planning, making water shortage assumptions based on a lengthy eight-and-a-half-year drought. The plan is modeled on a hypothetical repeat of California's drought from 1986 to 1992, followed immediately by the drought from 1976 to 1977, raising eyebrows about how realistic those assumptions are.

"It does seem a little bit extreme to bookend the two worst-case scenarios together and then have that end up being something that's considered a likely outcome," said Councilwoman Sally Lieber at the May 25 council meeting.

Also fueling the SFPUC's conservative approach to drought planning is pressure from the state. California's Water Quality Control Plan for the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary -- better known as the Bay Delta Plan -- seeks to reduce how much water can be siphoned from the San Joaquin River in order to protect fish habitat along the river's tributaries.

Under both these assumptions, Mountain View could see its supply from SFPUC shrink by anywhere from 36% to 54%, though the numbers are not set in stone. Not only is the utility seeking to mitigate the problem with storage expansion and more recycled water, but both the Bay Delta Plan and the SFPUC's pessimistic drought model are hotly debated and subject to change.

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Councilwoman Lisa Matichak said the city's water management plan, still clouded with uncertainty, should be approved even if it must be revisited once cities and the SFPUC sort out the right approach to balancing regional water needs with environmental protection.

"I think for now it's the best approach we have," she said.

Meanwhile, the Santa Clara Valley Water District -- which provides about 10% of Mountain View's water -- is expected to adopt an emergency water shortage declaration on Wednesday, June 9, along with mandatory water use reductions for county residents. The reduction is expected to be a 15% cut compared to 2019 usage. Valley Water officials say 2021 has been the third-driest year on record since 1977, and that snowpack statewide has been "virtually gone" since mid-May.

At the height of the last drought, the water district put out an aggressive campaign to get residents to reduce water usage, including fines for water wasters flouting the water use restrictions.

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Droughts and water shortages unlikely to affect Mountain View's rapid housing and job growth

by / Mountain View Voice

Uploaded: Tue, Jun 8, 2021, 1:48 pm

Water agencies and cities across the Bay Area are preparing for another significant drought, bringing back mandatory water rationing and raising all-too-familiar concerns over dwindling water supplies.

And while the recent dry spell will mean shorter showers and yellow lawns, California's latest drought emergency doesn't appear to be a factor in Mountain View's plans to grow over the next two decades. With the backdrop of two successive dry winters and statewide drought declarations, city officials believe water demand is still low and flexible enough to support a vast increase in new residents and jobs.

City Council members are expected Tuesday to approve the city's Urban Water Management Plan, a key document detailing how Mountain View plans to provide enough water for residents in the face of uncertainty. Droughts are getting worse, likely as a result of climate change, and water providers for Mountain View like the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) are raising alarm bells over future supply shortages exceeding 50%.

Meanwhile, the city's population is expected to balloon by 47% to 117,000 residents by 2045, along with a similar spike in employment of 28% to 126,000 jobs. Demand for water will likely increase by 35% over that period, according to city staff. Housing currently soaks up a majority of the city's water use at 58%, followed by irrigation at 24%.

Despite the dual threat of extended droughts and growing demand, the plan shows positive signs that suggest Mountain View can handle both. The first sign is that Mountain View, in general, uses less water today than it did in past years regardless of steady population growth. Historical water use peaked in the 1980s at over 16,000 "acre feet" per year, or about 5.2 billion gallons, compared to just 9,856 acre feet today.

The second sign is that Mountain View has a strong track record of ratcheting down water consumption in the face of droughts. Water use plummeted between 2013 and 2015 amid a historic drought and tight restrictions on water use and irrigation. City officials say Mountain View achieved a whopping 29% reduction in water use during the peak of the recent drought, and that water use has yet to return to 2013 levels.

The question looming over the plan, however, is whether the SFPUC is going to close the spigot. The regional water supplier, which accounts for 84% of Mountain View's water, is taking an unusually conservative approach to drought planning, making water shortage assumptions based on a lengthy eight-and-a-half-year drought. The plan is modeled on a hypothetical repeat of California's drought from 1986 to 1992, followed immediately by the drought from 1976 to 1977, raising eyebrows about how realistic those assumptions are.

"It does seem a little bit extreme to bookend the two worst-case scenarios together and then have that end up being something that's considered a likely outcome," said Councilwoman Sally Lieber at the May 25 council meeting.

Also fueling the SFPUC's conservative approach to drought planning is pressure from the state. California's Water Quality Control Plan for the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary -- better known as the Bay Delta Plan -- seeks to reduce how much water can be siphoned from the San Joaquin River in order to protect fish habitat along the river's tributaries.

Under both these assumptions, Mountain View could see its supply from SFPUC shrink by anywhere from 36% to 54%, though the numbers are not set in stone. Not only is the utility seeking to mitigate the problem with storage expansion and more recycled water, but both the Bay Delta Plan and the SFPUC's pessimistic drought model are hotly debated and subject to change.

Councilwoman Lisa Matichak said the city's water management plan, still clouded with uncertainty, should be approved even if it must be revisited once cities and the SFPUC sort out the right approach to balancing regional water needs with environmental protection.

"I think for now it's the best approach we have," she said.

Meanwhile, the Santa Clara Valley Water District -- which provides about 10% of Mountain View's water -- is expected to adopt an emergency water shortage declaration on Wednesday, June 9, along with mandatory water use reductions for county residents. The reduction is expected to be a 15% cut compared to 2019 usage. Valley Water officials say 2021 has been the third-driest year on record since 1977, and that snowpack statewide has been "virtually gone" since mid-May.

At the height of the last drought, the water district put out an aggressive campaign to get residents to reduce water usage, including fines for water wasters flouting the water use restrictions.

Comments

ivg
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jun 8, 2021 at 3:56 pm
ivg, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Jun 8, 2021 at 3:56 pm

I disagree with the assumptions or subtext of this article. Restricting growth in MV is exactly the wrong way to cope with the drought, an artifact of the narrow-minded, city-by-city water allocation. Growth that takes place here is growth that doesn't take place in less water-wise places like Tracy or Stockton.

If we want to conserve water very aggressively, I suggest that stopping irrigation on the Shoreline golf course is a better option than stopping development.


Bruce Karney
Registered user
Old Mountain View
on Jun 8, 2021 at 4:56 pm
Bruce Karney, Old Mountain View
Registered user
on Jun 8, 2021 at 4:56 pm

Sometime during the current drought I'd like to see The Voice write an article to explain how the dramatic decrease in water usage was achieved over the last 40 years -- especially the per-capita reduction. Was it mostly due to widespread adoption of recycled water ("purple pipe water") for irrigation in North Bayshore, having a smaller percentage of water-hungry single-family homes in our housing mix, the disappearance of manufacturing plants that used lots of water, widespread adoption of low-flow toilets, rapidly escalating water prices, or what? Probably a combination of all these, of course, but which changes had the biggest impact? And where should we turn to ratchet down per-capita usage even further?


ivg
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jun 8, 2021 at 5:40 pm
ivg, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Jun 8, 2021 at 5:40 pm

Bruce, very good point. I agree completely.


LongResident
Registered user
another community
on Jun 9, 2021 at 12:14 am
LongResident, another community
Registered user
on Jun 9, 2021 at 12:14 am

The golf course is irrigated with secondary sewage water. It's not potable water. A lot of irrigation in the North Bayshore "office" area is the same water source--somewhat saltier and not sanitary enough to be considered potable. There's an entire separate water distribution network for this type of water coming out of the sewage treatment plant and it doesn't reach everywhere. A lot of Stanford University irrigation uses this source too, as they have connections to distribute the water all over the campus.


Activist Socialist
Registered user
Jackson Park
on Jun 9, 2021 at 1:59 pm
Activist Socialist, Jackson Park
Registered user
on Jun 9, 2021 at 1:59 pm

Indoor residential is the *third* largest use of water in California, after agriculture and landscaping. The state needs to step up and make water consumption more expensive for farms, and they need to place restrictions on outdoor residential use.


LongResident
Registered user
another community
on Jun 9, 2021 at 6:19 pm
LongResident, another community
Registered user
on Jun 9, 2021 at 6:19 pm

Outdoor water can percolate in refill the aquifer. Farm runoff needs to be regulated more, not actual irrigation. One way farms can use water is in the winter when the crops don't need it. Then can use surface water to flood the field on purpose. This recharges the aquifer. Life is not always so clear about good and evil. They can flood with secondary sewage water for one thing. We just try to pump that back into the ground anyway hopefully but a lot ends up running out to the ocean which can cause problems. Unfortunately the sewage treatment plant is usually (as in our case) set to flow to the ocean by the determined plant location. This makes pumping the usable but non potable water around be expensive.


ivg
Registered user
Another Mountain View Neighborhood
on Jun 9, 2021 at 8:48 pm
ivg, Another Mountain View Neighborhood
Registered user
on Jun 9, 2021 at 8:48 pm

Yes, all of our treated wastewater should be either reused for irrigation or pumped into the ground. And we should promote efficient farming practices.


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