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June 9, 2023

Guest view: Drought-proofing the water supply

Last winter’s drenching rain filled many state and local reservoirs, and dumped a healthy dose of snow on the Sierra Nevada. But the state’s fragile Delta infrastructure threatens the delivery of imported water throughout the state, which can become challenging for water agencies, especially in times of drought.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District knows that to protect us from future droughts and dependency on imported water, we must continue to work toward securing reliable local water sources. That’s why the water district has been hard at work expanding its recycled and purified water program.

Recycled water is wastewater cleaned through multiple levels of treatment. It can be purified to produce water that meets or exceeds all state drinking water quality standards. Through a series of advanced treatment processes, wastewater is stripped of contaminants, pharmaceuticals, viruses and bacteria to produce clean, safe and drinkable water.

All of these advanced processes can be seen up close at the Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center in San Jose. The largest facility of its kind in northern California, the purification center is a cornerstone of our recycled and purified water program. Since its doors opened in 2014, this state-of-the-art facility has been key in our efforts to increasing our drinking water supply with this drought-proof water source, independent of rainfall.

There are two paths to do this: through indirect potable reuse or direct potable reuse. The first consists of replenishing our groundwater aquifers by allowing purified water to filter naturally through soil and rock layers, to be pumped later for drinking. The second is to send purified water directly to our drinking water system after it has been treated. Both options require further research and would require expansion of our pipeline system.

Currently, recycled water is used for landscaping, agricultural and industrial purposes, such as irrigation or for cooling towers. This allows us to conserve drinking water.

Since before the historic drought, the water district has made great strides expanding the recycled water pipeline network with several projects, such as the South County Recycled Water Pipeline Project. A partnership between the water district, cities of Gilroy and Morgan Hill and the South County Regional Wastewater Authority, this effort will add about 14,500 linear feet of pipeline in South County. When completed, it will increase the availability of recycled water in the area by roughly 50 percent, from 2,000 acre-feet per year to up to 3,000. (An acre-foot is about the same amount of water two families of five use in a year). The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation recently awarded $5.7 million in federal funding for the project, equating to about 25 percent of the total project cost.   

The four agencies have been working on expanding recycled water delivery for over a decade, as laid out in the South County Recycled Water Master Plan, which was introduced in 2004 and updated in 2015.

For more information on our progress in recycled and purified water, I invite you to a free tour of our purification center. Schedule your tour and find tasting events at

SCVWD Director John Varela represents the South County district, which includes Morgan Hill, on the water district’s board of directors. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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