SCVWD funds project for imported water

Gilroy
–The Santa Clara Valley Water District has committed to a
federal project to increase the water it can import from the
Sacramento-San Joaquin Rivers Delta at a cost of $2.12 million.
Gilroy –The Santa Clara Valley Water District has committed to a federal project to increase the water it can import from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Rivers Delta at a cost of $2.12 million.

Known as the Delta Mendota Canal Entertie, it is a joint project of several water agencies under the direction of the CALFED Bay-Delta Authority. When it’s built, it will connect delivery systems operated by the federal Central Valley Water Project and the State Water Project, allow the CVP’s Tracy Pumping Plant to operate at full capacity and provide more flexibility in the way the district gets its allotment of CVP water. In a typical year, the district receives about 110,00 acre-feet of its maximum 152,500 acre-foot allotment.

An environmental watchdog group said that the project, is one of several projects that will damage the delta’s ecosystem and ultimately cause water shortages.

But the project is considered one of the district’s highest priorities.

“It has a lot of merit,” the district’s Keith Whitman said. “I would rank it pretty high because it protects our baseline water supplies that we depend on now and that we need for the future.”

The intertie, a joint project of several water agencies under the direction of the CALFED Bay-Delta Authority, also will provide an alternate delivery route in case age or natural disasters disable current routes. The district’s investment will be credited against the more than $200 million it owes for past CVP capital projects.

The CVP and SWP provide about half of the water managed by the district. The vast majority of it is used in North County, but about 14,000 acre feet a year are put into the South County sub-basin and divided equally between agricultural and municipal use.

An acre-foot is equivalent to an area about the size of a football field filled to a depth of one foot. It is enough water to supply two families of five for about a year. Santa Clara County uses about 400,000 acre feet every year and South County uses roughly 15 percent of that.

The intertie is a relatively small project. It will add 36,000 acre-feet to the region’s annual supply, about 1/30th of which will come to the water district.

District Board Member Sig Sanchez said contributing to the intertie makes sense for the district because it builds good relations with the Westlands and San Luis water districts. The district needs support from those two Central Valley districts for possible future projects to protect against low water levels in the San Luis Reservoir.

Whitman said the intertie project also will protect against draining the reservoir in the late summer and fall. Low levels cause high algae concentrations in the reservoir and if the water dips below the outlet, it can not be pumped out.

Barry Nelson, a senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council in San Francisco said recently that the intertie and a handful of other CVP and SWP projects that will pump more water from the delta will destroy the ecosystem there.

By endangering habitat, he said, the projects may ultimately damage water supply.

CALFED was created in 1995 as a way to balance the needs of water users and the environment. Before CALFED, delta pumps would occasionally be turned off to protect endangered fish species. Nelson said that if water agencies revert to their previous practices of ignoring the environment and water quality issues to focus solely on supply, they will return to days of service interruptions.

“These projects will lead us to exactly the situation CALFED was supposed to deliver us from,” Nelson said. “The real genius of CALFED was getting everyone to recognize that we have to solve these problems together. If you ignore other needs, single purpose management won’t even work for that single purpose.”

Whitman said the scope of the project will have little or no environmental impact.

“It’s a modest increase that helps the project operate effectively,” he said. “This year has been relatively wet, but if we get into dry years, we need the CVP water and that’s when it’s toughest to get.”

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