REACTIONS to Santa Clara Valley Water District’s vote on Cal Water Fix

Yesterday, the Santa Clara Valley Water District Board of Directors voted 4 to 3 to participate in California WaterFix.  Here’s what officials and organizations had to say.

From the Santa Clara Valley Water District:

Today, the Santa Clara Valley Water District Board of Directors voted 4-3 to participate in the California WaterFix project, the state’s proposed plan to improve the infrastructure that carries water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. This vote is in line with the board’s Oct. 17 vote which offered conditional support to the project and asked that the state consider a lower-cost, scaled-down and phased project.

However, the circumstances surrounding the WaterFix have since changed substantially. Last month, the Metropolitan Water District decided to fund the unsubscribed Central Valley Project portion of the WaterFix in addition to its State Water Project share. Metropolitan’s support reduced the financial risk to the Santa Clara Valley, but it also took a one-tunnel project or a phased project off the table.

The Central Valley Project is a federal water transportation and supply system; the State Water Project is its California counterpart. The Santa Clara Valley Water District contracts with both systems to receive water imported through the Delta.

“The board’s vote today means that Santa Clara County will have a better chance of sustaining its imported water supply in the face of earthquakes, climate change and sea-level rise that threaten the Delta,” said Director Tony Estremera, one of the authors of the Guiding Principles that the board adopted in October to provide a framework for the board’s decision-making process. “Protecting water supplies for homes and businesses in Silicon Valley is a top priority, and we’re still working to get the best deal for the residents and businesses here. This is just the first step in a long effort to secure our water supplies.”

“We have a tremendous amount of negotiations to do to make sure that the taxpayers have good representation that is equitable,” said Chair of the Board Richard P. Santos.

The board’s vote encompassed 14 actions (Attachment 2.1-F) to support and participate in the WaterFix project; adopt the findings of the California Environmental Quality Act review; and authorize the CEO to negotiate terms and execute agreements. Their vote also directed staff to continue participating in discussions, negotiations and evaluations on water transfers, water supply alternatives and storage opportunities related to WaterFix and to bring terms and conditions back to the board for consideration. It adds consideration of a payment assistance program for low-income seniors and a per-acre-foot surcharge on water delivered through the project to be used for environmental and restoration efforts.

These actions are necessary to protect our water supply. The Delta is vulnerable to sea-level rise, climate change and flooding. The levees that make up the state’s water distribution system there are 50 years old and made mostly of dirt. Experts warn that a moderate-sized earthquake could collapse this system and put our water supply at risk.

The California WaterFix is a $17 billion project to bring water from north of the Delta underground through two parallel tunnels to users south of the Delta, including Santa Clara County. The project is expected to cost the water district $650 million for design and construction costs.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District manages an integrated water resources system that includes the supply of clean, safe water, flood protection and stewardship of streams on behalf of Santa Clara County’s more than 1.9 million residents. The district effectively manages 10 dams and surface water reservoirs, three water treatment plants, an advanced recycled water purification center, a state-of-the-art water quality laboratory, nearly 400 acres of groundwater recharge ponds and more than 275 miles of streams. We provide wholesale water and groundwater management services to local municipalities and private water retailers who deliver drinking water directly to homes and businesses in Santa Clara County.

From Governor Brown:

Governor Edmund G. Brown Jr. issued the following statement regarding today’s vote by the Santa Clara Valley Water District Board of Directors to support WaterFix, California’s effort to modernize the state’s water infrastructure:

“Simply put, this courageous decision will help two million Santa Clarans have a more reliable water supply.”

Last month, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California Board of Directors also voted to support the WaterFix project in full.

From Karla Nemeth, Director of the Department of Water Resources:

“The Santa Clara Valley Water District Board of Directors showed decisive leadership with its vote to fund WaterFix, which will protect affordable and reliable water for future generations. In the coming days, the state and the public water agencies funding WaterFix will enter into an agreement to implement final design and construction. This partnership will be organized to deliver the project on time and on budget, while prudently managing risk. We look forward to moving forward with this important project.”

From Assemblyman Jim Frazier:

Assemblymember Jim Frazier (D-Discovery Bay) released the following statement after the Santa Clara Valley Water District voted today to reverse course and support the Delta twin tunnels and potentially commit hundreds of millions of dollars to the project.

“Today, with one vote, a majority of the Santa Clara Valley Water District Board decided to tie its ratepayers to what could become the most expensive boondoggle in the state’s history and endanger the environment and economy of the entire Delta region. The decision to flip-flop on the choice it made six months ago is as unconscionable as it is fishy. After Westlands Water District opted out of the tunnels plan in September, SCVWD’s board in October decided its ratepayers should not be in the business of subsidizing agricultural water districts in the San Joaquin Valley. Nothing has changed since then. As the Mercury News and the East Bay Times noted in a recent editorial, it is irresponsible for a seven-member board, without a vote of its ratepayers, to commit astronomical sums of money to a project that has never had a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis or accurate cost estimate, threatens to destroy an entire ecosystem and way of life and does not create a single drop of new water. These ill-conceived tunnels would be the biggest infrastructure project in the state’s history. We know from painful experience how quickly costs spiral out of control on projects of this type. You need look no further than the Bay Bridge and High Speed Rail. The vast majority of those who spoke at today’s meeting vehemently opposed SCVWD participating in this disastrous project. The Board’s decision clearly violates the wishes of the ratepayers it represents.”

From John McManus with the Golden Gate Salmon Association:

“Today SCVWD’s directors voted to saddle their ratepayers with a double-digit rate increase in order to subsidize water to almond growers in the western San Joaquin Valley. Some water managers would have you believe the tunnels are a fait accompli but it is far from that. GGSA and allies are already in court challenging this project because federal fish experts have found the twin tunnels will be a disaster for salmon. Getting permits for this project will fall to the next governor and hopefully he will appreciate the damage the tunnels would do to our salmon fishery, so we don’t have to wait for the courts to decide this in our favor.”

About GGSA

The Golden Gate Salmon Association (www.goldengatesalmonassociation.org) is a coalition of salmon advocates that includes commercial and recreational salmon fisherman, businesses, restaurants, tribes, environmentalists, elected officials, families and communities that rely on salmon. GGSA’s mission is to protect and restore California’s largest salmon producing habitat comprised of the Central Valley river’s that feed the Bay-Delta ecosystem and the communities that rely on salmon as a long-term, sustainable, commercial, recreational and cultural resource.

From Restore the Delta:

This afternoon, the Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD) board of directors voted to support the Twin Tunnels megaproject. The board did not commit to a specific cost share today, but plans to revisit the proposed $650 million financial commitment at a later date.

The Board voted 4-3 in support of the tunnels, with board directors Keegan, Kremen, Estremera, and Hsueh in support, while Director Varela, Vice Chair LeZotte, and Chair Santos opposed the project.

This afternoon’s decision goes against the board’s October resolution to only support a single tunnel project.

Executive Director of Restore the Delta, Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla said, 

“Last October, the Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD) board of directors walked away from the twin tunnels because they felt that there were still too many unknowns, and that hasn’t changed. The laundry list of unknowns spans from an incomplete project design to unfinished geotechnical borings, missing engineering analyses related to seismic studies and Delta gas wells, a not-yet-finished revision of the final supplemental Environmental Impact Report, no water affordability analysis, and incomplete air quality permitting and mitigation. That will not be clearer to Santa Clara Valley when they deal with the next fifteen years of litigation that will disrupt this project.

“This afternoon we heard Santa Clara Valley Board directors express that they believe in Government and trust the process. But we believe that in order to trust Government, decision-makers must be held accountable. Over the last two weeks, the public has organized to make phone calls, text messages, emails, and comments before the board to do their civic duty to hold this board and the Department of Water Resources (DWR) accountable. We have worked extensively to attempt to stop litigation and to focus on positive solutions for Delta and state water management, but DWR, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), and Governor Brown insist on forcing the project on Californians. Litigation is a form of collaboration, and the next chapter of this fight that is far from over.

“Currently, the project has $650 million from SCVWD, $1 billion from Kern County Water Authority, and $10.8 billion from MWD,  which totals around $12.4 billion—meaning that the $16.8 billion project is still short by over $4 billion. If Central Valley Project contractors don’t fill that gap, tunnels proponents will have to recruit private investors to create a public-private partnership and/or increase property taxes in Santa Clara County and the greater Los Angeles area. When the project inevitably faces increased cost overruns and delays, Santa Clara County ratepayers will be paying more than $10.26 a month, and Los Angeles residents will be paying more than $5 a month.”

RELATED:  Ahead of today’s legislative oversight hearing on Cal Water Fix, a group of 60+ organizations have sent a letter of support to Assembly leaders.  Click here to read the letter.

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