San Benito district to transfer extra water

Santa Clara Valley Water District

County to help Santa Clara district by moving surplus
County to help Santa Clara district by moving surplus

With a surplus of water at its disposal, the San Benito County Water District has agreed to transfer up to 12,000 acre feet of its Central Valley Project supply to the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

“Last year was a very good water year and I had more water than I had customers for, so I had extra water available,” said Jeff Cattaneo, manager of the local water district. “I took as much of the water as I could and put it in all the places that I have to store water and I still had 12,000 acre feet left over.”

Any water that the district couldn’t use or carry over to the next year would end up going back to the Bureau of Reclamation, which sells Sacramento Delta water to agencies in Central and Northern California, and the district would have been reimbursed.

“To avoid losing it, I transferred to Santa Clara,” Cattaneo said.

The last such transfer happened about a decade ago, as years when there is a water surplus “are becoming fewer and farther between,” Cattaneo said.

The deal is really a transfer of contracted water. The Santa Clara district will pay approximately $50 per acre foot for the water it acquires, the same amount that the San Benito district paid for the right to use it. Had the transfer not been done and the contracted amount not been used locally, the water district would have been reimbursed for the unused water anyway. By transferring it rather than not using it, the San Benito County Water District can help a neighboring district.

“We try to help each other out whenever possible,” Cattaneo said, noting that the water, if unused, would have been reallocated by the Bureau of Reclamation among all of its water users.

For the water year that began March 1 and runs through February 28 of next year, the state has told the water district to expect 30 percent of its historical water usage amount for agricultural allocation – down from the 80 percent it received last year. The district expects to receive 75 percent of its historical use amount for municipal and industrial customers.

Because of water banking and storage practices last year during a high water supply year, the county water district expects to provide customers with “pretty much everything they need,” Cattaneo said.

“Next year and the years after that, all bets are off,” he said. “We’ll keep our fingers crossed that there won’t be another three-year drought.”

The district has enough groundwater storage to “easily get through” a four- to five-year drought, though the water quality from that supply is inferior to the water supplied by the state through the Central Valley Project.

When water districts have to purchase water on the spot market, outside of their contracted amounts, the price per acre foot can be 10 times what was charged this year, Cattaneo said.

“In 2009 I paid $465 an acre foot plus a conveyance cost just to have enough water for growers,” he said, adding that the cost of non-contracted water this year is $250 to $400 per acre foot.

The Bureau of Reclamation will be revising its allocation amounts near June.

“If it begins to rain and there’s snow pack to support an additional allocation, we might get a greater percentage,” Cattaneo said. “In some years when it’s unusually dry in the latter part of spring, the state has actually reduced the allocation.”