By Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla
Restore the Delta has recently focused a lot of work on the relationship between Santa Clara Valley Water District (SCVWD) and San Luis Delta-Mendota Water Authority (SLDMWA).
Understanding the relationship between these two special (or special interest) water districts and their relationship with Westlands Water District of SEC fame shows how special water districts work together on Delta exports and advocacy for the Delta Tunnels.
San Luis Delta-Mendota Water Authority is a special district of 28 irrigation districts that draw water from the federal Central Valley Project, all located on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, including Westlands Water District.
Santa Clara Valley Water District, which receives municipal and industrial water deliveries, is also a San Luis Delta-Mendota Water Authority member, because SCVWD like the other 28 agricultural irrigation SLDMWA districts, receives its Central Valley Project water from the San Luis Reservoir. The San Luis members make up a joint powers authority – a legal binding relationship of shared concerns, infrastructure, resource management, and expenses. Jason Peltier, who was the former Deputy Director of Westlands Water District during the time of “a little Enron accounting,” is now the general manager for San Luis Delta-Mendota Water Authority.
Santa Clara Valley Water District, located in Santa Clara County, receives 40% of its total annual water supply via Delta exports, but it is a small Delta water user compared to Westlands Water District (600,000 acres of drainage impaired irrigated lands that rely on Delta water and/or over drafting their own San Joaquin Valley groundwater).
Santa Clara Valley Water District also uses less water in comparison to Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and Kern County Water Agency, agencies that draw their Delta export allotments from the State Water Project (SWP). (We’ll catch you up on the SWP in another episode of Downton Abby Delta Flows soon.)
Overall, Santa Clara Valley Water District draws about 3% of the total water exported from the Delta from both the Central Valley Project and the State Water Projects in a normal water year. Sharing a sustainable yield of Delta water with Santa Clara Valley is doable, and a wise water investment for the state’s economy. Thus, in terms of water shared, Santa Clara Valley Water District is a smart use of Delta export water.
However, Santa Clara Valley Water District contributes on average $450,000 a year to the San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority. According to a presentation by the Santa Clara Valley Water District staff to their Board on April 26, 2016, $30,000 of the total goes toward planning for the Delta tunnels project, over $170,000 toward legislative affairs related to Central Valley Project water deliveries, and $122,000 toward Delta issues participation.
In short, Santa Clara Valley Water District is funding campaigns, Delta Tunnels planning, and lobbying efforts to extract more and more water exports from the Delta, which will primarily benefit their San Luis Delta Mendota partners, like the Westlands Water District, rather than their own ratepayers.
Part of that campaign funding is used by San Luis Delta-Mendota Water Authority to fund the astroturf group, El Agua Es Asunto de Todos campaign which was revealed in the New York Times as a “golden brand” of a campaign centered on “persuading Congress to loosen the federal rules that now set aside Sacramento basin water for salmon fisheries and endangered species like Delta smelt.” Removing these environmental and species protections from the Delta for greater water exports is a cause that El Aqua has endorsed with enthusiasm.
Here we come to the crux of the problem. Santa Clara Valley Water District Board Members did not understand that they were funding the El Agua campaign until the New York Times story was released. Somehow details of this work either have not been forthcoming from Santa Clara Valley Water District senior staff to their own board or from San Luis Delta-Mendota Water Authority officials to anyone at the Santa Clara Valley Water District.
Furthermore, during the last San Luis Delta-Mendota Water Authority meeting, discussions on issues that should be reported back to Santa Clara Valley Water District ratepayers, were classified as confidential by San Luis Delta-Mendota Water Authority under attorney-client privilege, preventing Santa Clara Valley Water District representatives from reporting back their findings to their fellow Santa Clara Valley Board Members or the public. In other words, San-Luis Delta-Mendota leadership is blocking publicly elected Santa Clara Valley Board Members from communicating with the public in an earnest and forthright manner about their working relationship with San Luis Delta-Mendota.
Because Santa Clara Valley Water District shares a reservoir through a joint powers authority with San Luis Delta Mendota Water District, it has aligned itself with the wrong parties regarding Delta exports, messaging, advocacy campaigns, and Delta tunnels planning. Urban residents are subsidizing the objectives of big industrial agricultural forces who are also subsidized by Federal taxpayers for hundreds of millions of dollars. This has happened because senior management from both special interest water districts have collaborated together to move and resell water for decades. Senior management at Santa Clara Valley Water District has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo because buying and then selling water to the retail agencies is how they generate their revenue to stay in business.
The Santa Clara Valley Water District, which receives from the Delta a modest 109,000 acre-feet of water on average annually, represents a region that depends on a healthy San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary to attract a world class workforce. Their ratepayers recreate in and near the Bay-Delta.
Santa Clara Valley Water District can continue to export and supply its retailers with its fair share of a sustainable Delta water yield following better methods and strategies without having to collaborate with, or subsidize the political goals of industrial agricultural interests on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.
Santa Clara Valley can collaborate with Delta interests to protect the Delta watershed through levee investments and watershed protections. They can also invest in local infrastructure and technology to conserve, reuse, and capture as much water locally in order to make the most of the District’s own water sources in addition to Delta water received.
This leads us to ask the following:
• Does the Santa Clara Valley Water District Board of Directors have the courage and foresight to bring about institutional change with their staff?
• Will this Board of Directors live up to the District’s mission of environmental stewardship and support for social justice by defunding campaigns that seek to destroy Delta protections and that misuse farm workers for financial gain for the Westlands Water District?
• Will they prepare for a hotter and drier climate in the decades to come and move toward soft path water operations which will better serve the District?
• Will they reject Delta tunnels that will cost their own ratepayers up to $1.2 billion before cost overruns, and three times more if irrigation districts in the San Luis Delta-Mendota Water Authority fail to make a financial contribution? A San Luis contribution to the tunnels seems highly unlikely as Jason Peltier will not state publicly how they will pay for their share of the tunnels.
• Will the Santa Clara Valley Water District Board of Directors transform their own agency, making it the water technology leader of the future?
• Will they become the model agency for the rest of California to follow, staying true to the technical entrepreneurship models followed by businesses in their region, or will they allow themselves to continue to be dragged backwards by the leaders of unsustainable big industrial agriculture?
Forward-looking advances are made every day in the Silicon Valley.
We hope the Santa Clara Valley Water District Board of Directors will invest in the water infrastructure of the future and work to protect the Bay-Delta estuary. By shaking off alliances and commitments that no longer serve their ratepayers, they could become the water heroes of California.