Godzilla made a cameo appearance at California State Sen. Josh Becker’s forum on water resiliency last week. In a slide presented by panelist Felicia Marcus, the bipedal lizard lurked behind San Francisco skyscrapers swathed in the orange haze of Sept. 9, 2020, the day Bay Area wildfire smoke obscured the sun.
To Marcus, the William C. Landreth Visiting Fellow at Stanford University, the monster represents both the abrupt “wake-up call” of the 2011-2014 California drought as well as the uncertainty of what the current fire season has in store for residents.
“The only question is which Godzilla of wildfires are we going to get?” she asked. “How big is it going to be?”
While part of Thursday’s hourlong forum highlighted potential relief to come, including Bay Area water recycling projects in progress and a $5.1 billion drought response package proposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom, panelists shared sobering statistics and commentary about the state’s ongoing water crisis.
The Bay Area is dependent on water from the Sierra Nevada snowpack and the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, both of which are threatened resources due to diminishing precipitation and rising demand.
As of Thursday, the National Drought Mitigation Center classified the entire state as experiencing some degree of drought, measured on a scale from “abnormally dry” to “exceptional.” The center described conditions within 73.3% of California, including along the Bay Area Peninsula, as “extreme,” a designation signifying the persistence of a year-round fire season and an insufficient supply of water to support agriculture, wildlife and urban needs.
Currently, endangered fish populations are threatened, wells are running dry and fields are going fallow, Marcus said in summary.
Panelist Gary Kremen, Santa Clara Valley Water District Board vice chairman, offered a local perspective.
While 30% of Santa Clara County’s water is sourced from groundwater aquifers and reservoirs, 50% is imported, and there are obstructions blocking retrieval, including the depleted snowpack, historically low upstream reservoirs and state and federal regulations that reserve water for protecting wildlife, according to his presentation.
Recycled water, 5% of the county bucket, requires an initial water source to start with, Kremen said, and conservation, 15%, is contingent on the behaviors of residents and businesses.
The district traces the majority of local water consumption to homes with an even split of 27.5% drained for both indoor and outdoor activity, Kremen said. He further broke down indoor demand: toilets, 24%; showers, 20%; faucets, 19%; clothes washers, 17%; leaks, 12%; and “other,” 8%.
“Most of it, 55%, is used by residential, and that’s good because that’s something we can control,” he said, addressing the virtual attendees. “You, personally, can do something about it.”
Panelist Newsha Ajami, director of Urban Water Policy with Stanford University’s Water in the West program, emphasized a needed transition to reliance on groundwater basins for storage rather than snowpack.
Californians can’t simply assume another wet year around the corner will offer relief, Ajami said.
For more information on water conservation, visit the Santa Clara Valley Water District website at valleywater.org. To alert water district officials to water wasting, call (408) 630-2000 or email email@example.com.