Drought, climate change and a growing population have heightened demand for reclaimed water in Silicon Valley. Yet more than half the region’s water supply still comes from the Sierra Nevada.
The South Bay Water Recycling program has tried to change that, evolving from a solely diversionary effort to a fundamental part of the regional water supply. Growing demand may soon allow it to cover costs through water sales instead of relying on sewer ratepayers for funding.
Before making that shift, the San Jose Regional Wastewater Facility, which runs South Bay Water Recycling, needs to get a better handle on its accounting. That’s according to a new audit up for review at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
For the past 15 years, San Jose has recycled water through its regional wastewater facility, which provides non-drinkable water by way of 143 miles of purple pipes to the cities of Santa Clara, Milpitas, the San Jose Water Company and the San Jose Municipal Water System.
Every day, the facility pipes out about 10 million gallons of reclaimed water to 800 irrigation and industrial customers, including San Jose City Hall, Great America and Levi’s Stadium. The water courses through power plants, cooling towers, toilets and sprinklers.
Water treated in the Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center is technically drinkable, but still goes toward non-potable uses, getting blended with recycled water to make it more pure.
This past fiscal year—for the first time—the facility earned more in recycled water revenue than it spent on its reclamation. And it looks like it will continue to break even for the foreseeable future, according to the report by the city’s lead auditor, Sharon Erickson.
To make more informed business decisions about water reuse, Erickson said, the city will have to come up with a more efficient way to track expenses for South Bay Water Recycling. Accounting separately for the South Bay would make it easier to get timely, accurate information, she added.
“Because costs are intermingled with other Wastewater Facility expenses and are not clearly identified, South Bay staff has to sift through myriad financial reports, and converse with management to understand South Bay’s estimated costs—all in a time-consuming and confusing manner, susceptible to minor errors, due to manual entry and undocumented changes to cost accounting,” Erickson wrote. “South Bay’s primary program analyst spends at least eight hours per month (about 5 percent of their time) creating the spreadsheets that track South Bay costs.”
With separate funds, she added, the city could cut the time spent crunching those numbers from hours to minutes
More from the San Jose City Council agenda for April 26, 2016:
- The city will consider plunking down $1.2 million on a .4-acre lot to build affordable housing. The property on Gallup and Mesa drives could house up to 40 below-market-rate units.
- To meet the goals laid out in its general plan, San Jose needs to get people to walk, bike, carpool or take public transit. The city plans to spend part of a $1.5 million grant on a consultant to survey the public and drum up a marketing campaign that promotes pedestrian, public and bike travel.
- The California High Speed Rail Authority recently gave San Jose a $600,000 grant, which required the city to put up $200,000 in matching funds. The grant will pay for a project manager to come up with a financing strategy to develop the downtown area by Diridon Station.
WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260