The Silicon Valley Voice

Power To Your Voice

City Desk: July 15, 2015


At the July 7 meeting, the Santa Clara City Council appoint John Martinez to Parks and Recreation Commission. A Santa Clara native and an ATT communications engineer, Martinez has been President of the Itallian Catholic Federation, and is currently a Knights Of Columbus Trustee and a member of the Santa Clara Elks.

Drought Reduces Hydroelectric Power – Increases City Costs

California is now in its fourth year of “exceptional” drought (the highest level of drought), and yellowed laws may be the least of it. There’s a hidden crisis looming from the loss of Sierra snowmelt and precipitous declines in surface water in reservoirs, lakes, rivers and streams. Less water quite simply means less power production.

Normally 22 percent of Santa Clara’s power comes from hydroelectric generators, Silicon Valley Power Director John Roukema said in his report at the July 7 City Council meeting. However, it’s an important piece because Santa Clara controls some of these sources – either as a direct owner, or as part of the Northern California Power Agency – in which Santa Clara in the principal investor. Some of the City’s hydropower comes from the federal Western Area Power Association, and some through established contracts.


This year only 17 percent of the City’s electricity will come from hydroelectric, reported Roukema. That five percent difference doesn’t seem like much, but to make up the difference the City will have to buy power on the wholesale power market; an additional $7.7 million cost. If the drought continues, Santa Clara will have to buy an increasing amount of power on the open market – where increased demand drives increased prices.

New Construction’s Impact on Santa Clara Water Use: None

Since 1987, Santa Clara’s population grew 25 percent, to 120,000 from 90,000. At the same time, water use dropped by 40 percent, down to 6 trillion gallons per year from 10 trillion gallons. Overall, water use is dropping annually on average almost twice as fast (1.81 percent a year) as the City’s population is growing (1 percent). In fact, current water use is down to 1979 levels, when the City’s population was two-thirds of its current size, according to Santa Clara Water & Sewer Utilities Director Chris de Groot.

California water use in 1988 averaged 218 gallons per capita per day per capita (GPCD), according to the U.S. Geological Survey. As of May, that average is about 100 GPCD state-wide – even factoring in Rancho Santa Fe, whose usage dropped in May to 299 GPCD from 426 GPCD a month earlier. Santa Clara average GPCD is 69. Hayward’s GCPD averages 43, and San Francisco averages 41; showing that there’s room for further efficiency.

Historically water use is split equally between indoors and outdoors. Water conservation non-profit the Pacific Institute estimates that on average indoor use could be reduced to 32 GPCD, while converting outdoor landscaping from lawns to more water-efficient plants could save 20 to 50 GPCD.

There are several reasons for that drop in addition to individual conservation efforts.

One is the growing use of recycled water for landscaping, industry and in toilets. The City currently delivers 2.8 million gallons per day (MGD) of recycled water – about 13 percent of the City’s total current water deliveries. Levi’s Stadium uses recycled water. The proposed Related project on the Northside, City Place Santa Clara, will be double-piped to use recycled water throughout the development.

Another reason is new water efficient construction, as well as replacement of older appliances, fixtures and irrigation systems. In 1975 the average indoor water use for a three bedroom single family home was 92,118 gallons, according to a 2014 report by the California Homebuilding Association.

Built today, CHF reports, that home would use roughly 46,000 gallons or less. More than half the single-family houses in California, however, were built before the first water-saving standards were put in place in 1980. The most recent water efficiency standards call for shower heads with 2 gallon per minute (GPM) flow and toilets that use 1.28 gallons per flush (GPF). Before 1980, showerhead flow was typically 3.5 GPM and toilets used 5.0 GPF. Simply replacing those pre-1980 toilets with new low-water use models could save California almost 100 billion gallons of water a year.

So instead of demanding a moratorium on new residential construction, perhaps we should be demanding more compelling incentives – or penalties – to encourage better water efficiency in existing homes. To see how your water use measures up, visit


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