While last winter’s storms brought much needed water to the parched state, in San Benito County the local reservoirs – San Justo, Hernandez and San Luis – are a mixed bag.
As of Monday, San Luis Reservoir was at 95 percent capacity, containing 1,956,360 acre feet of water, out of a total capacity of 2,041,000 acre feet, according to data from the California Department of Water Resources. A single acre foot of water is 325,851 gallons.
Nearby San Justo Reservoir is currently at 35 percent capacity, with 3,500 acre feet of water, out of a total capacity of 10,000 acre feet.
“It’s a little below where it normally is, usually it’s about half full,” said Shawn Novack, water conservation program manager with the Water Resources Association of San Benito County. “The more static one is Hernandez Reservoir. That’s all completely runoff from the watershed back there. They’ve been trickling that out.”
Data on Hernandez Reservoir wasn’t immediately available because it’s not hooked up to the state monitoring system, Novack said. The reservoir has a capacity of approximately 18,000 acre feet.
A recently proposed $800 million dam by the Santa Clara Valley Water District would make the Pacheco Reservoir off Highway 152, which also serves the county, but is located in eastern Santa Clara County, 25 times bigger, in addition to helping revive the steelhead population.
This year, San Benito County received its full allocation of surface water from the Central Valley Project, a federal water management program managed by the United State Bureau of Reclamation.
“The US Bureau of Reclamation determines how much water we’ll get,” Novack said. “This is the first year we’ve gotten a full allocation since I’ve been here. I’m pleased, and so are the farmers.”
Surface water is better quality and preferred by farmers, Novack said, while the local groundwater contains a lot of salt. County residents receive a combination of groundwater and surface water.
Novack said about 70 percent of county water goes to agriculture and 30 percent goes to the urban supply.
“The farmers like that good, clean water from snow melt,” he said. “A lot of farmers don’t have access to blue valve water and there’s no restriction to how much groundwater you can pump, so they use groundwater.”
Blue valve water, also referred to as San Felipe water, is imported water from the Central Valley Project. The term blue valve water comes from the color of the valves protruding from the ground outside the urban area. Farmers and small parcels in the county are eligible for this water, which is supplemental non-potable.
Blue valve water is stored at the San Luis Reservoir, where both San Benito County and Santa Clara County pump it through Pacheco Pass.
“Right around Casa de Fruta the pipe splits and one pipeline goes up towards Santa Clara and fills Coyote and Anderson reservoirs and the other part goes to our county,” Novack said. “Along the route to San Justo Reservoir (Fairview to Union Road), growers can tap into this water for their ag fields.”
Despite the winter rain that left local reservoirs flush, Novack still advocated conservation.
“Conservation is a way of life out here in California, because we know there’s going to be another drought that’ll pop up, as well as an increasing demand for water,” he said. “This time of year is our peak season with the heat and people doing landscape irrigation. About 60 percent of residential water goes to that.”
He advised establishing cycle irrigation to help avoid runoff.