Both the San Benito County Water District (SBCWD) and I have been mentioned prominently in discussions regarding SBCWD and its practices regarding water in our county. Consequently, I am providing the following history and clarifications. 

The San Benito County Water District is a public agency with a mission of managing and conserving our local water resources. Our business is the public’s business and we strive to maintain an atmosphere of openness and transparency in serving the county’s water needs. We welcome questions from our ratepayers and will always respond to requests for information.

We regret that a recent commentary posted on BenitoLink wasn’t based in fact. Factual information on the issues that were raised in the article, “Possible loan default could raise water rates” – July 1st, was easily available from the district. The writer of the article could have been supplied with accurate information. Instead, readers were provided with erroneous information that mischaracterizes the SBCWD’s efforts to responsibly manage its finances during one of the worst droughts in California history. 

 The statement that the district is considering “defaulting” on its loan obligation to the United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) is entirely false. What the district’s Board of Directors is considering, in fact, is a request to defer its semiannual payment of its water service contract that includes a $100 million capital component for its share of the voter-approved San Felipe project. In its contract with the USBR, the district has an option to request deferral of payment for unusual circumstances. The unusual circumstances are the severe drought that is affecting the entire state. 

SBCWD has had its delivery of water from the Central Valley Project drastically reduced this year and consequently its revenues from water sales have dropped. The SBCWD Board is reviewing all options of its contract with USBR to see what makes the most sense right now financially. The District has the ability to make the payment, it is simply exercising fiscal prudence by reviewing all options. There has been no discussion of defaulting on the water service contract, but only deferring payments as provided for in the contract.

The cost of water is always of interest to customers. Yes there is a difference in the cost of agricultural water and municipal water. Rates for “blue valve” water are established in its contract with the USBR. The federal government dictates that the cost of agricultural water is less than municipal water. The District maintains that pricing structure and passes on the cost to its customers.  The majority of the water in the District’s contract with the federal government is for agriculture (35,550 acre-feet for ag versus 8,250 acre-feet for municipal). So yes, more imported water from the CVP goes to agriculture, which is the driving force behind the local economy. In addition to providing water to agriculture, CVP water also serves many municipal customers. The SBCWD also manages the local groundwater basin, which is the source of water for many urban and rural customers. In fact, SBCWD’s prudent management of its groundwater resources will allow us to “weather” the current drought, unlike some of our neighboring water districts.

Another misguided statement that requires a response is the statement that “there is no end to the list of new projects” that SBCWD has under way. The goal of the District’s ongoing maintenance and improvement efforts is to assure water supply reliability for San Benito County, which is essential to maintain our economic and social vitality. Each of the projects currently being carried out has been thoroughly and openly discussed at numerous public meetings and forums and is the result of sound, long-term planning by management and the Board. The public has been notified and informed of the many alternatives, and has participated in the environmental review processes that have been carried out on behalf of local water customers. 

The most recent project is the Hollister Urban Area Water Project (HUAWP), a collaborative effort between the SBCWD, the City of Hollister and the Sunnyslope County Water District. The first phase of the project is the upgrade of the Lessalt Water Treatment Plant. The HUAWP has been in the works for more than a decade and its primary purpose is to deliver high-quality water to help ensure economic stability and contribute to a better quality of life for the entire community. The benefits of the HUAWP will be improved water treatment, better water quality, the ability to meet regulatory requirements for drinking water and wastewater, maintain local control of water resources, future development of groundwater banking, and the ability to utilize recycled water for high-value crops. (See project website: 

In summary, the SBCWD and its Board of Directors are committed to protecting and managing our precious water resources and doing so in a fiscally responsible manner. We encourage questions and comments from the public and welcome the opportunity to provide information that will help clarify our mission and vision. The SBCWD is committed to meeting ongoing challenges of providing a reliable water supply and maintaining the economic health and quality of life for our entire community.

–  Jeff Cattaneo is manager of the San Benito County Water District