The first few months of this rainfall season were below average across California, with drought conditions evident statewide. Although the Golden State received a much-needed soaking in late January, moderate drought conditions remain across Santa Clara County.
Valley Water remains focused on preparing for future wet and dry years through various projects and programs, including the proposed expansion of Pacheco Reservoir in southern Santa Clara County.
A partnership with the San Benito County Water District and Pacheco Pass Water District, the Pacheco project will increase the reservoir’s capacity from 5,500 acre-feet to up to 140,000 acre-feet, enough water to supply up to 1.4 million residents for one year during an emergency.
When Valley Water moved forward with the Pacheco project’s planning in 2017, California was coming out of one of the worst droughts on record. As Valley Water board members, we viewed the potential expansion of Pacheco Reservoir as a way to reduce the frequency and severity of water shortages during future droughts.
The multi-benefit project will improve habitat for the South-Central California Coast steelhead, a threatened fish population. The expanded reservoir will also incidentally reduce flood risk along Pacheco Creek and downstream Pajaro River by holding back peak flows, offering some relief to communities in Dunneville, Watsonville and Pajaro.
We know there are challenges with a project of this size. Recently, Valley Water staff informed the board that the project’s estimated cost rose to $2.5 billion from about $1.3 billion. Our agency is exploring four different dam alternatives, each with a different cost estimate. One of the options could reduce the cost by about $400 million.
Valley Water staff is currently working on the project’s environmental impact report, which will allow our agency to share the environmental impacts, gather more information on the proposed project, and include feedback from the public.
As board members, we recognize the importance of engaging with our community partners as we continue to evaluate this project.
On Feb. 24 and 25, Valley Water is hosting virtual public scoping meetings and open houses to allow the public and agencies an opportunity to learn more about the scope and content of the environmental impact report.
Our engagement with the public will not end with these virtual scoping meetings. We are dedicated to continuing an active dialogue and engagement with the community. We plan on releasing a community input survey in the coming weeks to gather your feedback on the overall project. The survey will be posted on our website and promoted on our social media platforms.
Feedback from the community will help guide us and our fellow board members to make an informed decision as we evaluate this project.
We hope you will join us on Feb. 24 and 25 to learn more about this project. For more details about the public scoping meetings, please visit www.valleywater.org/pachecoexpansion.
Gary Kremen, John L. Varela and Richard P. Santos serve on the Santa Clara Valley Water District Board of Directors. For more information, contact them at [email protected], [email protected] or [email protected]
Editor’s Note: Valley Water CEO Rick Callender serves on San José Spotlight’s Board of Directors.