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Santa Clara Valley Water District conditionally approves California WaterFix
by Dan Bacher
Friday Oct 20th, 2017 11:46 AM
The Santa Clara Valley Water District Board approved the resolution in spite of evidence provided by experts exposing the project’s flaws. Deirdre Des Jardins of California Water Research, who conducted an independent review of the science and engineering behind this project, told the board there have been “gross misrepresentations” about this project that should have give the District pause in supporting it. 

Photo: Groundwater recharge pond behind the Santa Clara Valley Water District offices in San Jose. Photo by Dan Bacher.
Santa Clara Valley Water District conditionally approves participation in Jerry Brown's California WaterFix

by Dan Bacher

Local activists have been engaged in a uphill battle for over two decades to restore the once thriving Chinook salmon and steelhead runs on the tree-lined Guadalupe River, located on Santa Clara County Water District land as it flows by the water district’s offices in San Jose.

But the Board of Directors of the agency made a decision on Tuesday afternoon that could doom the salmon and steelhead populations in that small river, the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and their tributaries and the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary.

In a 7 to 0 vote, the board adopted a resolution expressing “conditional support” for the continued planning and participation in Governor Governor Jerry Brown’s controversial California WaterFix project. Like Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti last week, they expressed support for a single tunnel, rather than the twin tunnels proposed in the California WaterFix.

Specifically, the resolution authorizes the District’s CEO “to continue participating in California WaterFix planning discussions to further further define the project, and to develop agreements to secure the conditions needed for the district’s support.”

In voting to participate in the project, Board Chair John Varela said they “took a course of action that we believe will help Santa Clara County thrive.”

“The California WaterFix will reduce risks to water supplies from failing levees and rising seas, while improving water flow in the south Delta to protect fish,” he said. “Because fully 40 percent of the water used in Santa Clara County comes to us through the aging infrastructure of the Delta, our life, environment and economy depend on the condition and reliability of the Delta infrastructure.”

Varela said the board’s support for California WaterFix is contingent upon certain conditions. “Our existing imported water supplies, from both the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project must be sustained and protected at a reasonable cost per acre-foot,” he noted.

The board adopted seven principles to guide the water district’s participation in the project. You can review the conditions written by directors Keegan, Kremen, and Estremera here.

Varela also discussed the pressure that Governor Brown and Resources Secretary John Laird exerted on the district to back the tunnels. In a private meeting, Laird said he was “open to the idea of single tunnels versus twin tunnels,” noted Varela.

He recalled a call from what he jokingly called his “new BFF,” the Governor,  on the evening before the vote. “The Governor called me at 6:3O pm at home and asked, “What are you going to do?” said Varela.

The board made their decision after hearing from the Department of Water Resources Director and from 35 members of the public, including 25 opponents of the project and 10 supporters of the project.

Before voting, Board Member Barbara Keegan said her approval of the resolution was based on her belief that the agency was “open to negotiation, but not to a blank checkbook” on proceeding forward with the WaterFix.  

As a reporter covering the meeting, I found the discussion of what the board actually voted on very confusing, with both the Sacramento Bee and Mercury News reporters claiming that the board had rejected the California WaterFix — and Governor Jerry Brown and Natural Resources Secretary John Laird claiming the opposite.

Governor Brown praised the “unanimous vote by the Santa Clara Valley Water District Board of Directors to support WaterFix, California's effort to modernize the state's water infrastructure.” 

“The Board’s vote today is a major step forward for California WaterFix and ensures that Santa Clara will have the water it desperately needs,” said Brown in a statement. 

Likewise, Secretary Laird, said, “We commend Santa Clara Valley Water District’s board members for taking action today to stabilize their water supply for generations to come. Their 7-0 vote adds to the momentumwe’ve seen in the last two weeks as local agencies around the state have seen the value of WaterFix and formally voted to participate in the project.”

Delta Tunnels opponents said the confusion over what exactly the board voted on at the meeting demonstrated the chaos that the project is in now in. 

"These contradictory views of Santa Clara Valley's vote reveal the deep disarray that this project is in,” said Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, Executive Director of Restore the Delta. “Governor Brown wants to sell the vote as a win. Yet, Santa Clara's support, just like the Kern County Water Agency vote of 48.5 percent to pass a motion of support, is for something other than California WaterFix. So many conditions have been placed on the terms of support (including description of a scaled back project) that it feels like a bait and switch is being set in place for a new project.”

"The truth is that Metropolitan Water District voted to fund 26 percent of WaterFix, Kern County came up short with approval of 6.5 percent funding at $1 billion, and now SCVWD has voted for about 4 percent support at $600 million. That suggests that total State Water Project funding for the project (with other small contributing agencies on board) is shy of 40 percent. In other words, Governor Brown doesn't even have half the contributions for WaterFix bond sales lined up to move forward. Is this because 40 percent is enough for one tunnel—a project that has not been set to paper?” she asked.

After the vote, Conner Everts, the executive director of the Southern California Watershed Alliance and facilitator of the Environmental Water Caucus, quipped, “Their vote was like approving a housing project for 10,000 homes and then voting to reduce the project to 5,000 homes.”

”This is the third meeting that I have been to in a week where water agency boards made their decisions not on the merits of real concerns of the public, but on politics,” he added.

He also said he found it insulting how some of the Delta Tunnels proponents brought up the Human Right to Water Bill, a bill that he had spent considerable effort on to pass through the legislature, when the project would do nothing to bring safe drinking water to low income communities around the state.

The board approved the resolution in spite of evidence provided by experts exposing the project’s flaws. Deirdre Des Jardins of California Water Research, who conducted an independent review of the science and engineering behind this project, told the board there have been “gross misrepresentations” about this project that should have give the District pause in supporting it. 

First, she contested the claim by tunnels advocates that the project will ensure the resilience of the SWP and CVP diversions in the event of a major earthquake in the Delta.

 “As I informed the Board last week, an internal analysis by DWR showed that the tunnel joints could leak in an earthquake,” she stated. “This fact was never disclosed to the public or to the Boards voting on the project. As I explained last week, the issue has still not been adequately addressed.”

Second, Des Jardins challenged the claim that the project will “protect against sea level rise.”

”I testified on the sea level rise in the WaterFix hearing conduced by the State Water Resources Board and also cross-examined DWR's engineers,” she stated. “It came out that the project facilities are only being designed for 18 inches of change in water levels. The assumption was based on an extremely simplistic equation that DWR's engineers acknowledged was in error.  They have promised to reconsider sea level rise in the next revision.”

Third, she contested Brown administration claims that the project will “protect” critically endangered Delta smelt.

”There are currently no proposed operations to protect Delta Smelt,” said Des Jardins. “The operations to protect Delta Smelt will be determined in the future by the Trump administration.”

”This is failure not only in project engineering, but also in project planning. The goals of the project need to be clear and the engineering and proposed operations need to address those goals. There needs to be an adequate financing plan,” she concluded.

However, Varela, apparently pressured by his “new BFF,” Jerry Brown, and other board members voted to approve their conditional participation in the California WaterFix in spite of evidence provided by Des Jardines and many others at the meeting, including numerous ratepayers who will end up subsidizing corporate agribusiness by paying higher water rates.

As I walked past the dark, slowly flowing water of the Guadalupe River on the way back to my car from the meeting at district headquarters, I reflected upon how the board had just shown their contempt for salmon and steelhead on this stream and the many rivers and creeks that flow into the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary.

I also reflected upon how the board had just shown contempt for their own ratepayers, who will inevitably end up subsidizing agribusiness tycoons like Stewart and Lynda Resnick of the Wonderful Company, who make many millions of dollars growing pistachios and almonds for export in Kern County, by paying higher water rates for the construction of the tunnels.

And I reflected on the contempt the board had just shown for the Winnemem Wintu and other California Indian Tribes, for whom the salmon had been integral part of their culture and livelihood for many thousands of years before Shasta Dam was built.

”The Winnemem Wintu Tribe has lived on the banks of the McCloud River for thousands of years and our culture is centered on protection and careful, sustainable use of its salmon,” said Caleen Sisk, Chief of the Winnemem Wintu Tribe near Mt. Shasta, after joining environmental and fishing groups in a lawsuit this August against the Department of Water Resources’ approval of the California Water Fix.   “Our salmon were stolen from us when Shasta Dam was built in 1944.“

”Since that dark time, we have worked tirelessly to restore this vital salmon run through construction of a fishway around Shasta Dam connecting the Sacramento River to its upper tributaries including the McCloud River.  The Twin Tunnels and its companion proposal to raise Shasta Dam by 18 feet would push the remaining salmon runs toward extinction and inundate our ancestral and sacred homeland along the McCloud River,” Chief Sisk concluded. 

In an article in Water Deeply, scientist Jonathan Rosenfield of the Bay Institute says the state’s own evidence shows that the Delta Tunnels would harm Chinook salmon and other fish species by exporting more water out of the Delta.

“Despite years of assuring Californians that the new $17 billion tunnels would protect the San Francisco Bay estuary and would not increase the total volume of water exported from this ecosystem, the state’s own documents – including the Biological Assessment and Draft Environmental Impact Report/Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (RDEIR/SDEIS) – show the opposite,” said Rosenfield.

To read the entire article, go to:

Santa Clara Valley Water District is the only California water district that contracts for water deliveries from both the federal Central Valley Project (CVP) and the State Water Project (SWP). The district receives 25,000 acre-feet of water from the CVP and 15,000 acre-feet of water from the SWP. About 40 percent of the District’s supplies are currently imported from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas.

The Board’s “Seven Principles” 

The seven principles the board adopted Tuesday to guide the water district’s participation in the project are:

• Santa Clara County needs are the primary drivers in all our decisions involving the WaterFix project.
• We will not allow Silicon Valley values and priorities to be placed at a disadvantage relative to Central Valley Agriculture or Southern California.
• We are advocating for a flexible approach that addresses Silicon Valley stakeholder and community input.
• As water is a human right, we must make investments to make sure our water supply meets future needs at a cost affordable by everyone.
• Equity and costs are important.
Any final arrangement must provide flexibility to acquire supplemental water by taking advantage of future • Any final arrangement must provide flexibility to acquire supplemental water by taking advantage of future wet years to ensure residents have a reliable water supply, no matter what extreme weather the changing climate brings.
• Keep negotiating for the best deal for Santa Clara County.