Photo: Jessica Weare
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Greenbelt Alliance

Stephanie Reyes Shines at the Silicon Valley Regional Economic Forum

On July 21st, Interim CEO Stephanie Reyes was a panelist at the Silicon Valley Regional Economic Forum. She spoke about water and sustainability in California and how it relates to the economic competitiveness of the state.

Stephanie sat on the panel with important stakeholders in the discussion: State Water Commissioner Andy Ball, Santa Clara Water District Chairwoman Barbara Keegan, and the CEO of Sunpower, Tom Werner. Stephanie offered new ideas to the panel and stood out with her opinions on infill development and open space conservation.

How can we solve the California water crisis?

Stephanie and Greenbelt Alliance are changing the conversation—at the forum and in the region—focusing on long-term solutions rather than short-term fixes to the water crisis in California. Stephanie’s remarks revealed a two-part strategy: protecting the natural and agricultural lands that filter and store our water, and developing in a water-wise way.

By addressing the bigger picture, we are able to build on top of everyday water-saving tips like letting the lawn go brown, washing the car less, and taking shorter showers. Instead of narrowing in on how individuals can save water, Stephanie is bringing to light where municipalities must improve, citing that “California loses 228 billion gallons of water a year due to water infrastructure issues, such as leaking pipes, which ends up being 25% of the total water in the system.” This large fault in our system can be addressed through infill development—developing in vacant or under-utilized land within an existing urban area. Infill development conserves water because it requires shorter pipes, which ultimately leak less.

It turns out that there is yet another direct link between water demand and development patterns. “A new California home built in a smart growth neighborhood will use 35% less water than one built in a sprawling neighborhood,” according to Stephanie, largely due to using less landscaping. In short, investing in infill development could have hugely positive impacts on water supply.

The second tactic Stephanie highlights is preserving open spaces and preventing sprawl. In her panel remarks, she revealed how Santa Clara County’s natural and agricultural lands provide $1.6 billion in benefits annually because of agricultural value, natural flood protection, and water filtration. She also made the point that it is much cheaper to protect this space rather than, for example, build an entire greywater filtration system. Roughly 1.2 million acres, or more than a quarter of all the land in our region, catch and filter rainwater and replenish groundwater supplies. If we do not prevent sprawl in these open spaces, cities and counties will take on the cost of compensating for the loss of the natural protective systems. In the long-term it will cost more to sprawl out than it will to focus development inside of cities and towns, so she encourages counties and cities to say no to bad development.

In the long-term it will cost more to sprawl out than it will to focus development inside of cities and towns.

“Cities and counties in Silicon Valley have the opportunity to make land-use decisions that protect our water supply,” Stephanie said. “A great local example is Coyote Valley in San Jose. It is is the largest undeveloped portion of Silicon Valley’s groundwater aquifer. The Valley’s wetlands and riparian areas act as natural water treatment plants that improve groundwater quality. Coyote Valley also has over 2,500 acres of floodplain, providing flood protection to residents of Southern San Jose. San Jose has the opportunity right now to protect and restore this amazing water resource for Silicon Valley.”

As panelists at the forum weighed in on the water crisis and Silicon Valley’s ability to help, the theme became clear. As our region grows to 9 million people over the next generation, making water-wise decisions about where and how we grow will be absolutely essential. Smart growth will not only conserve the water we already have, but it is the smart economic choice for the future.


Photo: Jessica Weare

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