Kennedy, Cruz campaign for water director’s seat

Santa Clara Valley Water District board candidate Tom Cruz.

With the ongoing drought forcing political boards at every level across the state to enact conservation measures, south San Jose resident Tom Cruz—one of two candidates for the expiring District 1 executive director seat for the Santa Clara Valley Water District—wants to make “aging pipeline infrastructure repair a priority.”

“The community is already making personal sacrifices and the water retailers are enhancing their conservation rebates,” said Cruz, a 48-year-old Santa Clara County employee. “In fact, the residents of Morgan Hill have benefited significantly from the aggressive efforts the City has implemented.”

The City of Morgan Hill is close to reaching the SCVWD’s mandatory conservation measure of a 20 percent water retention. The city council has restricted watering to certain days, and offered rebates for businesses and residents who install high-efficiency toilets, washers and irrigation equipment. 

Cruz wants the water district to help more, and he advocates cost-effective methods to contain pipeline water leakage in San Jose, Gilroy and Morgan Hill.

Former Morgan Hill mayor Dennis Kennedy, 75, currently holds the District 1 director position—one he was appointed to in Jan. 2013 after then director Don Gage vacated it to return as mayor for the City of Gilroy. Kennedy initially offered to not seek election but now wants to keep his post and stay the course against the drought.

“That’s the biggest issue that we have that we’re dealing with right now,” said Kennedy, reiterating the 20 percent water conservation target, specifically with Morgan Hill at 19.7 percent. “The Water District does an incredible job offering incentives so the public voluntarily achieves that goal.”

SCVWD’s Board recently passed a $500,000 measure for the hiring of water conservation personnel—called water cops by some—whose job it will be to locate and educate blatant water-wasters throughout the area.

Another drastic tactic taken by water officials with the support of its board was the cutting off of the county’s surface water users—who were freely tapping into an untreated water pipeline supply via the Central Valley’s San Luis Reservoir for agricultural and landscaping uses. That turnoff directly affected local farmers, most notably Andy’s Orchard owner Andy Mariani, who has since found a temporary water supply—thanks to neighbor George Chiala Farms—to get by at least until next season.

“It’s been very tough and I’ve been right in the middle of it,” said Kennedy, who met with Mariani and helped set up several open forum meetings between water officials and surface water users. “I think it’s important for the director to facilitate those meetings and address concerns fairly for everyone.”

In his candidate statement, Cruz—a 20-year resident in District 1—stressed the importance of fiscal responsibility to “ensure that the Water District uses the tax-payer funded budget conservatively, wisely and on programs that directly support the community members, businesses and agriculture in South County.”

The son of a retired military veteran, Cruz attended college on a U.S. Air Force ROTC scholarship studying electrical engineering and physics. He worked independently as a licensed financial representative before turning to public service with the county, where he has been for the last seven years.

“The community is experiencing one of the worst droughts in history,” Cruz wrote. “I will advocate for aggressive water conservation strategies, enhanced rebates to the community and focus on the need to increase the distribution of recycled water for residential landscaping, farmland and agriculture in South County.”

The use of recycled water is something Kennedy has wholeheartedly supported during his tenure. He touted the grand opening of the Silicon Valley Advanced Water Purification Center, which takes wastewater that would otherwise be discharged into San Francisco Bay and purifies it by using three proven purification processes: microfiltration, reverse osmosis and ultraviolet light. The $72 million purification center produces up to 8 million gallons a day of highly purified water, according to water district reports.

“State laws don’t allow you to drink it,” said Kennedy, but the registered mechanical engineer and former member of the board of directors for the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority drank a glass during the grand opening ceremony to “show how much I trust the process.”

In Gilroy, Kennedy was just as proud of the South County Regional Wastewater Authority, which recycles nearly 25 percent of its sewage and wastewater intake. The reclaimed product is used to water golf courses such as Eagle Ridge, large-scale landscaping, the Calpine power plant at Gilroy Foods and even laundry facilities.

“That facility has the capacity to recycle over 100 percent of its water waste,” Kennedy said.

This is Kennedy’s first water board election, but he was elected five times as mayor of Morgan Hill, where he served from 1992 to 2006. Kennedy believes being director on the water board is well-suited for his skill set.

“It’s something that evolved over time,” said Kennedy, a former facilities and engineering manager with IBM. “More and more as I got into it and learned more about what the district does, I just felt this was a perfect fit.”