News Feature | August 1, 2016

Algae, Not Drought, Has California District Tapping Backup Supply

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

A water district in California is tapping its backup supply, but not because of the state’s historic drought. The state has another water problem on its hands: algae.

Officials in California’s Santa Clara County closed a reservoir and a lake to outdoor recreation in July so they could tap these water sources. “Santa Clara County needs the drinking water, and the region's usual supply system has been disrupted” by algae, the San Jose Mercury News reported.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District normally relies on drinking water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta during the summer, but algal growth in the delta and a nearby lake have rendered that supply foul-smelling and earthy-tasting. As a result, the district had to use water sources that are only tapped as a last resort, according to KRON.

“In most years, water from Anderson and Coyote reservoirs is left in storage through the summer as an emergency backup source. It’s drawn down in late fall to provide room in the reservoirs for winter rains as a flood control measure,” the San Jose Mercury News reported.

The aggressive policy decisions have raised questions about how the district should manage conservation. “If San Luis can start filling within a few weeks, we don’t anticipate there would be a need to increase conservation,” said Cindy Kao, the district’s imported water manager, per the Mercury News. “We are still sorting it out, but we don’t think there’s an emergency.”

The district switched water sources when ratepayers indicated that their tap water seemed strange, although officials say it was safe to drink.

"Once we started getting complaints, we immediately switched to a different source, and that took care of it," said Bruce Cabral, water quality manager for the district, per the Mercury News.

In California, Santa Clara County is not alone. Last week, Contra Costa County health department warned residents in “a town of about 13,000 to avoid contact with the water — that includes dogs — after preliminary tests revealed the presence of cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

To read more about algae visit Water Online’s Nutrient Removal Solutions Center.