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March 11, 2009 > Celebrating what is beneath our feet

Celebrating what is beneath our feet

This month we will be celebrating Groundwater Awareness Week, March 8 - 14, which is sponsored by the National Groundwater Association. You may be wondering why groundwater deserves an awareness week. Well, it's because groundwater is a critical component of our water supply.

About half of the water used in Santa Clara County each year comes from groundwater basins through more than 7,000 wells owned by municipalities, retail water companies or individuals. The county's three interconnected groundwater sub-basins transmit and store vast quantities of groundwater, while naturally filtering the water that percolates down from the surface.

Hidden underground and out of sight beneath our feet, groundwater basins are a critical local asset. With below-average rainfall for the last several years and reductions in our imported water supplies, we are fortunate to be able to draw upon water saved from past rainy seasons. This water stored underground is our best protection against drought and is one of the main reasons why the Silicon Valley is in better shape than most of California.

So how have we accumulated this groundwater supply? Groundwater is also a renewable source that can be replenished by precipitation as well as active groundwater recharge.

Natural groundwater recharge is insufficient to meet groundwater pumping and therefore the water district has operated an artificial recharge program since the 1930s. Today, the water district operates and maintains 18 major recharge systems. The primary function of most of reservoirs in the county is to capture and store local runoff and imported water, which is later released to into creeks and ponds to replenish the groundwater basin.

While local groundwater is generally of high quality, it can be threatened by industrial spills, urban runoff, leaking underground storage tanks, inefficient agricultural operations, septic systems, livestock facilities and other sources. Water district staff samples wells throughout the county for contaminants and works with local water retailers, land use agencies and regulatory agencies such as the Regional Water Quality Control Boards to ensure a safe and healthy supply of groundwater.

However, there is no local, regional or state agency responsible for maintaining and testing the county's 5,000 private wells; it's up to owners to watch over their water systems. This is why Groundwater Awareness week is so important. Now is the time for private well owners to remember to test their water supply.

In addition, Groundwater Awareness Week is an opportunity to look at what groundwater means to our communities and to each of us as individuals. All of us play a role in protecting this valuable and renewable resource - our county's largest reservoir. Please help us to protect this hidden resource by using water efficiently and remembering - "if you don't want to drink it, don't put in on or in the ground!"

As always, I am available for questions or comments as your District 3 representative for Sunnyvale, Alviso, Milpitas, Berryessa/Alum Rock communities, east of Highway 101 to the Evergreen community area. Feel free to contact me at (408) 234-7707.

Director Richard Santos
Santa Clara Valley Water District

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