Slower growth in Silicon Valley could lessen strain on resources

By Colleen Valles, Associated Press Writer
Saturday September 29, 2001

SAN JOSE — With the high-tech industry settling down and the economy slowing, Silicon Valley can expect slower growth over the next 10 years, according to a study released Friday. 

That should lessen the strain Silicon Valley’s meteoric growth has put on the availability and quality of resources, such as water, air and open space. But in order to ensure that trend continues, local businesses must shift their focus — from using the resources to build the hub of the high-tech industry to making sure the resources continue to be available and to maintain their quality, according to the report by the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group. 

From 1990 to 2000, the population of Silicon Valley, which encompasses parts of four counties, grew 12.6 percent to 2,370,120 people. By 2010, the growth rate is expected to be only 10.8 percent for a total of 2,625,219 people. 

The slower growth means communities will be better able to help their infrastructure, such as water and sewage lines, transportation systems and schools, keep pace with development, according to the report. But it still has a potential to harm the environment. 

“Just because our growth is declining doesn’t automatically mean it’s better for the environment,” said Joyce Taylor, Bay Area Regional president of Pacific Bell and member of the manufacturing group. 

If special attention isn’t paid to air and water, the protection of open space and the reduction of waste, then air and water quality could be severely diminished, habitat for species could be threatened, and landfills could become crowded and toxic. The report advocates monitoring these aspects of growth over the next 10 years. 

“This growth puts significant constraint on air, water and land resources,” Taylor said. “As we continue to improve our infrastructure, we need to make sure these improvements don’t negatively impact the environment.” 

Air quality officials in Silicon Valley have not yet presented state and federal regulatory agencies with an acceptable plan for cleaning up the air. The Bay Area could lose more than $1 billion in federal highway funds for 30 projects if it doesn’t come up with a plan that meets approval. 

Water is scarce and many of the region’s waterways are polluted by metal particles, oil, pesticides, debris and other contaminants. 

The report cites possible ways to sustain air and water resources, such as telecommuting and increased use of public transportation for air quality, and recycling water. 

“Industry has an incentive to be more sustainable because it benefits them economically,” said Terry Watt, of the Silicon Valley Conservation Council. 

Some businesses already use these tactics, and doing more will actually help companies because they’ll have more resources to draw from, Watt said.