valley water john varela gilroy chamber legislative summit hilton garden inn
Valley Water District 1 Director John Varela describes conservation programs the district offers during the Gilroy Chamber of Commerce’s Legislative Summit at the Hilton Garden Inn on April 22. Photo: Erik Chalhoub

Elected officials convened in Gilroy April 22 to give an update on legislative actions that have affected South County over the past year.

But one topic was a recurring theme throughout the morning: the statewide drought and the need to conserve water.

The Gilroy Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual Legislative Summit at the Hilton Garden Inn.

Speaking to an audience of about 50 were Gilroy Mayor Marie Blankley, Morgan Hill Mayor Rich Constantine, Congressmember Jimmy Panetta, Congressmember Zoe Lofgren, County Supervisor Mike Wasserman and Valley Water Director John Varela. Assemblymember Robert Rivas and Senator John Laird were unable to attend, but had staff members in the audience who answered questions.

In late March, Gov. Gavin Newsom, responding to what has been considered the driest start to a year in the state’s recorded history, called on water suppliers to further tighten their water conservation efforts.

On April 13, the Valley Water Board of Directors unanimously voted to restrict the watering of lawns and ornamental landscapes in Santa Clara County to no more than two days a week. The board also voted to prohibit watering during the warmest parts of the day.

As of April 19, Santa Clara County was considered to be in a severe drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, although its neighbor to the south, San Benito County, is mostly in “extreme” drought.

“We’re in the most severe situation we’ve been in decades,” Varela said. “Because we’re in such a severe drought, we need to take measures so we can continue to supply you with water.”

Varela used most of his time during the summit to promote Valley Water’s conservation programs.

Homeowners and commercial property owners can gain rebates from Valley Water if they convert their thirsty lawns into drought-tolerant landscapes—up to $3,000 for residential and $50,000 for commercial properties.

Information about the rebates and other conservation programs can be found at

Varela said South County has come close to meeting Newsom’s 2021 call to reduce water use by 15% compared to 2019 levels, but the rest of the county is falling short, saving roughly 6% from June to February.

Countywide, water use was 23% higher in February 2022 compared to February 2019, with Valley Water attributing that to no measurable rainfall in a month that had unseasonably high temperatures.

Valley Water’s 10 reservoirs are at 24.6% of capacity, according to data from April 25.

A years-long retrofit of Anderson Dam in Morgan Hill, which got underway in 2021, has hindered water supply in the region, as the reservoir must remain nearly empty as work continues. Lofgren reported that the project remains on track, with estimates projecting the work will continue to 2031.

Constantine said since the Morgan Hill City Council declared a water supply shortage in June 2021 and restricted irrigation use, the city has reduced its usage by 17% compared to 2020 numbers. The Gilroy City Council issued a similar declaration in mid-2021.

Also discussed during the summit:

• Wasserman, who is retiring as District 1 supervisor at the end of 2022, presented a list of his accomplishments over the past 12 years on the board. He received a standing ovation at the end of his presentation.

• Blankley said negotiations between the City of Gilroy and Sharks Sports Entertainment for an ice rink facility at Gilroy Sports Park have entered the legal phase to draft a term sheet. More details are expected to arrive at the city council in the coming months.

• The Mobility Partnership, which includes elected officials from San Benito and South Santa Clara counties, recently asked for federal funding to continue design work on the Highway 101/25 interchange, and for an express lane on Highway 101 that runs from Cochrane Road in Morgan Hill to the Highway 25 interchange.

• Panetta described his trip to the Ukrainian border along with other members of Congress earlier this month in response to Russia’s invasion of the country. 

The U.S. has given a total of $2 billion in aid to Ukraine, according to the White House.

“I’m galvanized by the support that Congress is showing for Ukrainians to defend their democracy,” Panetta said.

The members visited several North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries, including Germany, Denmark, Poland and Greenland, and met with European leaders, Ukrainian refugees, U.S. troops and diplomatic personnel. 

More than five million people have fled the country since the invasion began in late February, with Poland taking in nearly three million refugees, according to United Nations data.

“The Polish people have taken these refugees into their homes,” Panetta said. “To me, that is remarkable. It’s that type of leadership that has been inspiring.”

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Erik Chalhoub joined Weeklys as an editor in 2019. Prior to his current position, Chalhoub worked at The Pajaronian in Watsonville for seven years, serving as managing editor from 2014-2019.


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