What Coyote Valley Can Teach Us About Water-Smart Planning

By Malek Jelassi, Marketing and Communications Associate, Greenbelt Alliance

California is no stranger to droughts. They have been a part of the state’s history for centuries. However, the severity of the current drought crisis underscores how important it is for Californians to use water resources wisely.

The state of the climate is changing, and with it, our vulnerability to extreme weather events. Many of the state climate change models indicate that we should expect more severe and intense droughts. Simultaneously, we’re increasingly vulnerable to the risk of floods by large storms. This means that we need to be even more mindful of how we use and even think about water if we want our state’s economy—which relies heavily on agriculture—as well as its environment and quality of life, to thrive now and well into the future.

Greenbelt Alliance recently collaborated with SPUR and the Pacific Institute on the case study “Protecting Groundwater Through Open Space Conservation.” It highlights Coyote Valley as a prime example of how water-smart planning can and should be done, providing a model of how open space conservation can help safeguard the Bay Area’s precious groundwater resources.

So, what makes Coyote Valley so special? 

Located between San José and Morgan Hill, in Santa Clara County, Coyote Valley was once slated for massive sprawl development of housing and commercial projects. But thanks to the tireless efforts of local activists, conservationists, and the support of community members, it remains mostly undeveloped. This not only helps keep our groundwater supply clean and plentiful— it also provides important agricultural and recreational opportunities for local residents and helps preserve vital wildlife habitat.

There are many reasons why Coyote Valley is special. For one thing, it’s home to the largest remaining undeveloped recharge area for the groundwater basin that serves Silicon Valley. Additionally, its 2,500 acres of floodplains slow and retain floodwater, protecting urban communities in the City of San José. It’s also teeming with wildlife and serves as a corridor and watercourse for thirsty bobcats, coyotes, foxes, and many other animals.

Map showing vulnerable groundwater resources in Coyote Valley

Coyote Valley is an important water resource to San José and the entire San Francisco Bay Area. Developing this area would consume a significant amount of this precious resource, which would have serious consequences for both people and nature, including:

  • A 25% reduction in groundwater recharge
  • Increased contamination of aquifers 
  • Increased downstream flooding 

Building in Coyote Valley would also contribute to the devastating impacts of climate change by generating large amounts of greenhouse gases—escalating the global temperature. These factors would further exacerbate the already severe drought that California is facing. Most importantly, Coyote Valley’s vulnerability to groundwater contamination underscores the importance of protecting our open spaces and agricultural lands. We need these areas not only for their environmental benefits but also for their ability to protect our water supply from harmful pollutants. Thankfully, there are ways to grow our cities without sacrificing our natural resources.

Critical Strategies to Protect Our Groundwater Supplies

  • Map vulnerable groundwater resources and groundwater-dependent ecosystems around the Bay Area. 
  • Protect highly vulnerable groundwater resources for conservation as open space. 
  • Use plans and policies that protect open space from development to ensure sustainable groundwater resources for decades. 

Coyote Valley is a great example of how it’s possible to balance conservation with development and create a landscape that benefits people and nature alike. The “Protecting Groundwater Through Open Space Conservation” case study is part of the Watershed Moments collection—comprising six case studies authored by SPUR, Greenbelt Alliance, and the Pacific Institute—highlighting leaders who are pioneering more sustainable approaches to water in Northern California.

Read the full Coyote Valley case study and others from Watershed Moments here.

Dive deeper by reading Greenbelt Alliance’s white paper Coyote Valley & Groundwater Protection.

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