San Jose and the Santa Clara Valley Water District pumped the brakes earlier this year on a plan to purify and recycle more water in the city. Since then, progress has slowed to a trickle.
On Wednesday, members of the city’s Rules and Open Government Committee decided to select a third party to facilitate negotiations between the city and Valley Water in an effort to jumpstart the process. According to a city memo, the committee is concerned with the lack of progress in negotiations with the water district.
Valley Water spokesman Matt Keller did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
“We weren’t getting the expected outcomes that we were looking for,” said Vice Mayor Chappie Jones. “After several meetings with Valley Water board members, my colleagues on the council and city staff and Valley Water staff, we came up with a tweak to the process. Most importantly was to bring a facilitator.”
The City Council asked officials in April to negotiate the purification project with Valley Water. Negotiations will end in January at the latest. According to the memo, the council will hear updates at a Sept. 14 meeting.
City officials met with Valley Water last week to discuss the project, which the wholesale water provider for Santa Clara County hopes to complete by 2028.
Valley Water is looking to expand San Jose’s purification facility—the largest wastewater treatment plant in the county—to increase the local groundwater supply. Valley Water prefers to build the expanded facility in San Jose because alternative sites such as Palo Alto don’t have existing Valley Water treatment plants. But city officials fear increased purification operations will create more wastewater.
“Staff is very much committed to working with the vice mayor, council and Valley Water on this,” said Lee Wilcox, deputy city manager.
Valley Water is the wholesale provider of water across the county. One of its primary sources is groundwater, but overpumping can be harmful to the environment and depletes essential drought reserves.
“(Valley Water and the city) have different interests, most of it of course is not conflicting,” Tony Estremera, chair of Valley Water’s board, told San José Spotlight. “There are different priorities because of that.”
Estremera said the city is interested in increasing housing, which Valley Water supports. But he added that housing can’t happen without receiving adequate, high-quality water.
“We have to do both of these things at once,” he said. “That’s what these negotiations are about. We at Valley Water want to be partners with the city. We don’t just want to be their customers.”
Some elected officials, including Mayor Sam Liccardo, are on rocky terms with the water district. In May, Liccardo publicly opposed a proposed $2.5 billion dam and reservoir in Pacheco Pass, saying the project is too costly and provides little benefit to residents. He also slammed the district for passing water rate hikes during the pandemic.
Both the water district and the city have been at odds due to what San Jose sees as exorbitant projects Valley Water is unwilling to budge on while increasing rates and encouraging residents to reduce their water usage.
“The city and Valley Water share a history of working together,” reads a city memo. “A reliable supply of clean water is necessary for the environmental, economic, and social well-being of Santa Clara County and it is important that we continue working together to develop locally controlled, drought-resilient supplies.”
Editor’s Note: Valley Water CEO Rick Callender serves on San José Spotlight’s board of directors.