Santa Clara Valley Water District reverses October decision, now opts to support WaterFix project

By on May 10, 2018
California WaterFix tunnels

Citing substantially changed circumstances, the Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD) Board of Directors voted 4-3 yesterday to now support the California WaterFix project. Yesterday’s vote reverses the vote taken by the SCVWD Board last October. Although the October 17 decision offered the water district’s conditional support of the state’s proposed plan to improve the infrastructure that carries water through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the board voted against helping to fund the project.

Instead, following the October vote the SCVWD Board requested Governor Jerry Brown and planners of WaterFix to consider a lower-cost, scaled-down and phased project. The status of WaterFix changed dramatically last month when the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California Board of Directors voted to fund its unsubscribed Central Valley Project portion of the WaterFix in addition to its State Water Project share.

The Central Valley Project is a federal water transportation and supply system; the State Water Project is its California counterpart. Like many state water districts and agencies, SCVWD contracts with and receives water from both systems as it is imported through the Delta.

The estimated nearly $17 billion California WaterFix is projected to convey water from north of the Delta through two parallel tunnels – each 35 miles long and 40 feet high buried underground – to users south of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Critics of WaterFix have consistently referred to the project as a boondoggle that will eventually favor agribusiness and Los Angeles area urban water interests.

But SCVWD Director Tony Estremera, one of the authors of the district’s Guiding Principles that the board adopted in October as the framework for the board’s decision-making process on WaterFix, disagrees.

“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,” said Estremera.

Richard P. Santos, chair of the SCVWD Board, echoed Estremera’s concerns saying, “We have a tremendous amount of negotiations to do to make sure that the taxpayers have good representation that is equitable.”

The board’s vote also included 14 actions relative to supporting WaterFix and protecting SCVWD’s interests and investments. These actions include:

  • Adopting the findings of the California Environmental Quality Act review
  • Delegating authority to the SCVWD CEO to negotiate terms and conditions and execute an agreement between the Department of Water Resources and the District for preconstruction capital costs for the WaterFix for a district contribution of up to $3.5 Million (known as Gap Funding Agreement)
  • Approving and authorizing the Board to execute a Joint Powers Agreement forming the Delta Conveyance Design and Construction Joint Powers Authority (JPA) and designate a district representative and alternate to serve on the Board of Directors of the Design and Construction JPA for the first two years following formation
  • Directed staff to continue participating in WaterFix discussions to further develop agreements and contract amendments to protect the District’s investment
  • Directed staff to evaluate and negotiate long term water transfers, water supply alternatives and storage opportunities related to WaterFix, and bring terms and conditions to Board for consideration

SCVWD contends that supporting WaterFix is necessary to protect the district’s water supply as the Delta is vulnerable to sea-level rise, climate change and flooding. They cite the levees that make up the state’s current water distribution system as being 50 years old and made mostly of dirt; seismologists warn that a moderate-sized earthquake could collapse this system and put the district’s water supply at risk.

“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 Estremera.

The SCVWD Board’s vote on Tuesday is expected to cost them $650 million for design and construction costs.