Santa Clara County’s groundwater — which provides nearly half the drinking water every year for 2 million Silicon Valley residents — fell by up to 60 feet during the state’s recent historic drought due to heavy pumping.
But now the vast underground basins have filled back up to the levels where they were before the drought started in 2011, a welcome trend that experts say was driven by heavy winter rains and strict water conservation rules during the drought that eased the need for pumping.
Monitoring wells run by the Santa Clara Valley Water District first picked up the recovery. And now a new scientific paper published Monday further verifies it.
“People did an amazing job at conserving water during the drought. The entire aquifer recovered,” said Estelle Chaussard, an assistant professor of geology at the University of Buffalo who led the study.
Chaussard analyzed data from four Italian satellites, which measured tiny changes in the surface levels of the ground in Santa Clara County during California’s five-year drought. She found that as groundwater levels plummeted during 2013 and 2014, the ground itself fell as the amount of water underneath it was depleted, a phenomenon known as subsidence. From 2011 to the summer of 2014, for example, an area just north of Happy Hollow Zoo near downtown San Jose saw a 2-inch drop in the ground level, as the ground dried out like a sponge sitting in the sun.
Monitoring wells in the same area showed that the groundwater table fell by at least 60 feet during that time. Similar drops occurred in the Campbell and San Martin areas, and drops of 12 to 19 feet happened in the water table under Sunnyvale and South San Jose’s Coyote Valley.
But when Gov. Jerry Brown and the Santa Clara Valley Water District moved from voluntary to mandatory conservation measures, the district limited yard watering, boosted rebates for water-efficient appliances, and hired “water cops” to leave door hangers and send letters to people watering wastefully during the hot part of the day. And significantly less water was pumped from the aquifers, which are sand and clay formations saturated with water.
At the same time, the water district continued to recharge the aquifers with some water it had in local reservoirs by moving it into dozens of percolation ponds spread throughout the county. It also used water imported from other places, such as the Semitropic Water District, where it stores groundwater near Bakersfield, to keep recharging the ground like a homeowner putting money back into the bank every month during an economic downturn.
“We were working on all fronts to reduce pumping,” said Vanessa De La Piedra, groundwater management unit manager for the Santa Clara Valley Water District. “We saw the very positive results of that. Groundwater levels started to recover in 2015 even though we were still in the drought.”
The ground level began to slowly rebound in 2015, Chaussard’s research showed, as more water underground essentially pushed it back into place. In 2015, Santa Clara County residents reduced water use 27 percent overall from 2013 levels.
When El Niño storms finally brought normal rainfall to Northern California in the winter of 2015-16, Santa Clara County’s aquifers continued to recover. And by 2017, when the wettest winter in 20 years caused downpours and floods, they were back to pre-drought levels, the district’s wells showed.
The study was published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, and also includes researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, UC Berkeley and Purdue University.
It helps demonstrate that satellite technology can be a useful tool in enabling communities to track the health of their groundwater basins, said Jay Famiglietti, a senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and a professor of earth system science at the University of California, Irvine.
But the good news in Santa Clara County isn’t being replicated in other parts of the state, he said. Of particular concern is the San Joaquin Valley, where farmers for years have overpumped groundwater with little or no recharging efforts, increasing pumping costs and causing roads and concrete canals to buckle and crack as the ground sinks.
“Most of the groundwater that is being pumped in the southern San Joaquin and Tulare Lake basins is much, much deeper,” Famiglietti said. “Those aquifers would take decades to centuries of extremely strict management to recover significantly.”
Santa Clara County has a long history of groundwater struggles. The water table fell nearly 200 feet from 1915 to 1960 as farmers and residents of growing suburbs increased their water use. Subsidence caused the ground to fall as much as 13 feet around San Jose. But when the water district began to construct local reservoirs, import water from the Delta and impose what’s commonly known as “the pump tax” to fund groundwater recharge programs, the water table began to slowly recover.
It is currently back up to basically the same level it was 100 years ago, despite the fact that the county’s population has grown by more than tenfold in the past century from 83,000 in 1910 to 2 million today. Even during the lowest point in the recent drought, the county’s water table was still far higher than it had been in the 1960s and 1970s.
In 2014, in what may be the most important lasting legacy from California’s 2011-2016 drought, state lawmakers passed a sweeping new law aimed at better regulating groundwater in California. Most other Western states, including Texas, were decades ahead of California.That law requires local government agencies in places where groundwater is most at risk to draw up plans to recover it — which could include local agencies levying fees and taxes on farmers and other users to pay for groundwater recharge projects, and potentially, for limits to be placed on how much groundwater can be removed in any year.
Critics, including some environmental groups, said that the law takes too long to take effect. As part of a compromise with farmers, it gives areas until 2040 to bring their groundwater pumping back to sustainable levels.
Good habits die hard, it seems, after five years of epic drought – for most Californians, anyway.
The historic dry spell from 2012 to 2016 prompted many state residents to reduce their water consumption, as did strict regulations imposed by state agencies and individual water districts. Whether they wanted to or not, urban Californians reduced their use of the state’s most precious resource by about a quarter.
Now, after mandatory conservation targets were lifted in April following a very wet winter, many Californians continue using less water than they were prior to the drought. In Sacramento, Los Angeles, most of the San Francisco Bay Area and Orange County, urban residential water use is down between 20 and 26 percent since 2013, often used by water agencies as the benchmark year for pre-drought water consumption, according to the State Water Resources Control Board.
That said, water conservation is already slacking off a bit – and more in some areas than in others. In the summer of 2015 – the height of the drought – Californians’ savings on water use peaked at about 25 percent of 2013 levels. A report from the State Water Resources Control Board shows statewide savings on urban water use for June 2017 totaled 17 percent. In other words, though we’re still using less water than we were in 2013, our consumption is rebounding.
Heather Cooley, the water program director for nonprofit Pacific Institute, says such a post-drought uptick in water use is to be expected.
“We see this looking back at other droughts, like in the late 1980s and early 90s,” she said. “People cut their water use, and then it rebounds a little, though never to pre-drought levels.”
Andrea Pook, a spokeswoman for the East Bay Municipal Utility District, says she expects the rebound in post-drought water use to be slight, at most. That is because people are better educated now in water use efficiency than they were just a few years ago, she said in an email. Not only that, many Californians installed more efficient appliances during the drought and replaced water-hogging lawns with drought-tolerant California native plants – actions that should translate into permanent savings.
There are so many lawn care myths floating around it’s hard to separate fact from fiction. Here are the top 5 myths we hear from our customers that need to be cleared up, once and for all.
Lawn Care Myth 1: It’s a good idea to remove grass clippings after mowing
Reality: A common misbelief is that grass clippings contribute to thatch, but in reality clippings act as a natural fertilizer for your lawn. Clippings are mostly water and will easily break down into your lawn’s soil. Save yourself the extra work by leaving the clippings and using them to fertilize your lawn.
Lawn Care Myth 2: You need to water your grass every day
Reality: Watering too frequently is just as bad for your lawn, if not worse, than not watering at all! Watering daily creates a mushy, shallow-rooted lawn that needs more and more water to survive. Lawns are heartier than we think – you really only need to water once a week. Just make sure your entire lawn gets an equal amount of water (about one inch).
Lawn Care Myth 3: Wearing spiked shoes helps aerate your lawn
Reality: While it’s incredibly convenient to just walk around your yard and have all your aerating done, it’s also incredibly false. Spiked shoes simply don’t dig deep enough into the soil and cover too small of an area to be of any use. Don’t waste time and money – aerate your lawn right the first time.
Lawn Care Myth 4: The best time to replace your lawn is in spring
Reality: Spring seems like the perfect time – after all, that’s when just about everything starts blooming. In reality, sowing seeds in spring is a fantastic way to end up with a brown lawn in the summer as your seedlings struggle to compete with heat and weeds. Fall is actually the best time to do your seeding – most weeds are dormant and the temperatures are more consistent.
Lawn Care Myth 5: Cutting grass short means you don’t have to mow as often
Reality: Seems tempting to just lower your blades…but beware! Lowering your blades actually causes more damage to your lawn – cutting too short can leave your lawn’s roots exposed to the harsh sun. Suddenly your beautiful green lawn turns into a patchy brown nightmare. In fact – guidelines actually recommend raising your blades in summer by one inch, to help your lawn stay healthy.
Parkway Lawn Services, Minnesota
Cleary Bros. is attending a huge job fair in San Jose today.
- Date – Sunday, September 10, 2017
- Location – Ethel & William Prusch Multicultural Art Center – 647 S. King Road,
San Jose, CA
- Time – 10 AM – 2 PM
- Cost to Attend: FREE!!
- Food and drinks provided
This beautiful property sits at the base of Mount Diablo in Danville Ca.
Under the careful attention of Cleary Bros, this property is the pinnacle of excellence.
“Subject: RE: Wildwood Owners Association-Enhancements: Cleary Bros. Landscape completion noticeHi Jason and Cleary team,I received a voicemail today from a wildwood homeowner telling me what a great job the landscapers did getting the mulch out. Its rare that I get a phone call just to say good job. I want to pass it along and thank you!Have a great weekend,Cara —-Sr. Community Manager”