Both the Hollister City Council and San Benito County Board of Supervisors passed resolutions on Aug. 8 and 9 to support the Santa Clara Valley Water District’s Prop. 1 funding application for the Pacheco Pass Reservoir expansion project.
Last March, the San Benito County Water District Board of Directors approved a plan to join two other water districts to support the project. Pacheco Pass Reservoir is located near where the north and east forks of Pacheco Creek intersect, north of Highway 156.
The Pacheco Pass Water District owns the reservoir, which has an operational capacity of 5,500 acre-feet. Water released from the reservoir flows down Pacheco Creek and seeps through the creek bed and into the underlying groundwater aquifer as it winds toward its confluence with the Pajaro River. Agricultural users in Pacheco Pass Water District and San Benito County Water district pump water from the aquifer.
According to county background documents, the project would cost approximately $800 million. It will include construction of a new earthen dam a short distance upstream from the existing dam and a pipeline to connect the dam to the existing Pacheco Conduit, a federal Central Valley Project pipeline that delivers water into Santa Clara and San Benito counties from San Luis Reservoir. The Pacheco Reservoir Expansion Project would expand the reservoir to 140,000 acre-feet and deliver water supply, water quality, and ecosystem benefits to the region and, through specific operations, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The reservoir, when filled, would inundate lands on private properties, but would not extend into Henry Coe State Park.
The enlarged reservoir would be operated to enhance the continuity of flows in Pacheco Creek, not only for groundwater recharge, but also to establish a high quality steelhead habitat that reaches far inland from Monterey Bay into Pacheco Creek. It would also expand the storage of Central Valley Project water available to the Santa Clara Valley and San Benito County water districts and provide more flexibility for use of this water at optimal times. The reservoir would be filled by a combination of Central Valley Project supplies and local inflows. Potentially, the reservoir could also provide downstream flood protection benefits.
When completed, the reservoir would benefit:
- Fisheries and habitat establishment along Pacheco Creek and downstream Pajaro River.
- Increased emergency water supplies and improved groundwater conditions.
- Improved water quality through avoidance of San Luis Reservoir low point issues.
- Expanded storage of wet year supplies for utilization during dry and critical years.
- Increased operational flexibility and greater local control of water supplies.
- Potentially, reduced flood risk along Pacheco Creek and downstream Pajaro River, offering some relief to the disadvantaged communities of Watsonville and Pajaro.
- Potentially, increased water supplies to Central Valley wildlife refuges.
When City Councilman Raymond Friend asked what the city would be getting out of the project, City Manager Bill Avera explained that the resolution was to gain the city’s support for the application, along with all the other area water districts. Mayor Ignacio Velazquez asked if the city would be partially responsible for repaying the $800-million bond. Avera told him it would not. The mayor then said his one big issue with local reservoirs is that the public cannot use them.
“Before I can support something like this, I want to make sure the public will be able to use it,” he said. “I don’t want to get into the same situation as San Justo," which has been closed for a number of years because of a zebra mussels infestation. "I want to see clarification on that. As a matter of fact, I want to see San Justo opened before we even start talking about another reservoir.”
The mayor was told that the resolution was to support the grant application process and that recreational uses, so far, had not been addressed. While Santa Clara County is the lead agency submitting the application, the various water districts in San Benito County were supporting it in order to have their voices heard later on. Velazquez insisted the city needed assurance early in the process that the public would have recreational opportunities at the reservoir, rather than be told later on that it was never intended for recreation.
Councilman Jim Gillio said the project is important and that he was surprised the city was asked to support it.
“Some of the main things we get from the reservoir includes the blue valve water for our farmers,” he said and explained further that when water levels in reservoirs are too low it causes “biologicals” to increase, which “causes problems for the farmers.”
“This is going to keep that water level higher where they’ll be able to utilize it,” he said. “And it may have been a 100-year flood; however, flooding in the Lovers Lane area may be prevented by this sort of reservoir. I spoke to the Farm Bureau about this and they firmly support it and I hope that we as a council send a letter of support. It’s a critical reservoir and I would be happy if we could fund it. What I mean by ‘we’ is the state.”
Friend said he agreed with Velazquez that there needed to be a recreational component to the project. He was reminded that the current dam is in need of about $2 million in repairs and the Pacheco Pass Water District was incapable of funding it. If the repairs are not done, the state might revoke the district’s license to store water there.
Velazquez said he understood the reservoir was an important source of water for the area, but maintained his insistence that recreation be included in the project description. He was told that might not happen until after the grant process was completed and further feasibility studies were conducted.
Hollister resident Marty Richman suggested to the council that it might send a provisional approval stipulating that the city’s desire for recreation be included in the plans.
“I understand the problem here,” Richman said, “they’re the big dog and we’re not. They didn’t ask us what we think about it. They just said ‘why don’t you support us?’ We should say we’re willing to support them provided you make a good-faith effort to maximize recreational use.”
Avera suggested everyone keep in mind the bigger picture.
“I understand there is a need and want for a recreation facility,” he said. “What this is doing is allowing us to make sure we have a sustainable water source and a safe dam up there.”
He indicated it was disingenuous to pretend to support other agencies only to threaten to pull that support if the city doesn’t get its way. He said he wasn’t sure if there was any recreation at the reservoir now and that there isn’t even a safe road to it. He said he didn’t want the city to hurt itself in insisting on a recreation component.
“I don’t think we are,” the mayor responded. “This is going to be a very large facility and I feel more comfortable, as mentioned (by Richman) that we do note it to be sure it’s included. If we can add that to the motion it would be very helpful to all of us.”
The city council voted unanimously to support the resolution with the provision that recreation be considered. The supervisors voted 4-0 to pass the resolution, with Supervisor Jerry Muenzer being absent.
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