The Loma Prietan - March 2014

Creeks to Tap Water:

Water Committee advocates for safety, preservation and conservation

by Rebecca Ratcliff

Trash fills Coyote Creek. Photo: Katja Irvin
Trash fills Coyote Creek. Photo: Katja Irvin

Water has made headlines lately – from our West Coast drought to West Virginia’s contamination woes.  Locally, the Water Committee advocates to protect our ecosystems and to support the sustainable use of water resources.  This Committee, reconstituted in 2011, now meets monthly and serves as a nexus for collaboration between local NGOs and advocacy groups.

In Santa Clara County, Coyote Creek tops the priority list.  This creek has suffered from a variety of onslaughts recently. 

Richard McMurtry, organizer of the cleanup, celebrates the improvement

Photo: Katja Irvin

Physical obstacles, from trash to dams, hamper local fish.  In many places Coyote Creek overflows with trash and various forms of humanity’s waste threatening the stream’s entire ecosystem.  To address these needs, the Water Committee has partnered with local groups, such as Save Coyote Creek, the Santa Clara County Creeks Coalition and the Santa Clara Valley Water District.  The Water Committee provides both hands-on practical help, such as attending creek clean ups, and assistance at the policy level. 

At the committee’s February meeting, members of the Santa Clara Valley Water District discussed the Coyote Creek Watershed Master Plan, a  plan to protect the stream.  One persistent dilemma is Anderson Dam, the largest dam in the county, which is seismically unstable and requires retrofitting. The Water Committee will continue working with the Water District and other groups to make sure this and future plans comply with all federal and state regulations and remove barriers to fish passage wherever possible.

Katja Irvin, committee chair, collaborates with Conservation Committee chair Michael Ferreira and the San Francisco Bay Chapter as well as with the Sierra Club California Water Committee to ensure the quality and quantity of our tap water. For example, in the Santa Clara Valley Water District, three treatment plants will begin fluoridating in 2016 water, whereas the San Jose Water Company does not plan to follow this effort. Seizing the opportunity presented by the fluoridation program, members of the Water Committee are looking for a partner to help us produce a comparative study of fluoridated and non-fluoridated area in Santa Clara County.

Water supply issues cross both regional and state lines. Committee members recently contributed to Sierra Club California’s White Paper Clean, Sustainable and Reliable Water Supply: Alternatives to the Giant Bay Delta Tunnels. The paper asserts that, through conservation, reuse and recycling, California can effectively realize enough ‘new’ water sources to eliminate the need for the tunnels recently proposed by Governor Brown.  Response has led the League of Women Voters to arrange a forum on the Bay Delta Conservation Plan on March 1st in San Jose.  Because the San Francisco Bay Delta provides much of Santa Clara County’s water, committee members have been reaching out to local residents with such informational opportunities as the March forum.

In addition, the committee remains involved in ongoing issues, including:

1. Local action to prevent fracking in our region and beyond;

2. Development projects that touch on riparian, coastal, water, or other environmental interests

3. Preservation of flood plains to minimize flood hazards and promote riparian habitat health.

Members of the water committee also plan to follow and support the following issues:

  • City of San Jose Riparian Corridor Ordinance
  • Implementation of Santa Clara Valley Water District Measure B programs and FAHCE
  • Local advocacy on the Bay Delta water conveyance project
  • Water conservation ordinances programs, including promoting on site rainwater capture and gray water re-use


Rebecca Ratcliff works as a science and technology writer and editor in Silicon Valley and as a pro bono advocate for pedestrian and cyclist safety