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Video: Water in Silicon Valley

Caitrin Chappelle April 30, 2015

Once a productive farming region, today Silicon Valley is a high-tech hub for the world, and a major driver of the state’s economy. As the valley has transitioned from fruits and nuts to bits and bytes, its water challenges have evolved—along with the approaches to dealing with them.

To explore how the region is coping with the current drought and preparing for future challenges, the PPIC Water Policy Center, with Cal Water and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, hosted an event on April 24 with local leaders and experts. Ellen Hanak, center director, set the stage with an introductory talk on the statewide drought, opportunities for more water conservation in Silicon Valley, and regional climate-related concerns such as floods and sea level rise.

The mayor of San Jose, Sam Liccardo, brought it back to the local perspective. To achieve its 30% conservation target for 2015, he noted that the city of San Jose is taking innovative small and large steps, including a summer jobs program for youth focused on turf removal and the development of city-wide recycled water re-use system. The mayor emphasized that strong leadership at the local and statewide levels is needed to remove barriers to better-integrated and more advanced water management that can sustain the region through the coming challenges.

A panel of experts then offered wide-ranging views on the current drought, and posed a host of common-sense solutions, from increased public education to greater adoption of proven technologies such as using recycled wastewater to recharge groundwater basins. The impact of climate change on water systems, from increased temperatures to a reduced snowpack, was a major topic, with panelists agreeing that we will need to adjust to a new normal.

The participants were Angela Cheung, deputy operating officer of the Santa Clara Valley Water District; Juliet Christian-Smith, climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists; and David Sedlak, co-director of the Berkeley Water Center at UC Berkeley. The panel’s moderator was Paul Rogers, an environment writer with the San Jose Mercury News and managing editor of the KQED Science Unit. As the drought continues, the PPIC Water Policy Center will be partnering with other local organizations and experts to bring similar conversations to other parts of the state.

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