San Benito County Water District customers might be billed for costs to reopen the San Justo Reservoir, said Duane Stroup, deputy area manager for the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation, at the April 13 San Benito County Board of Supervisors meeting.
San Justo Reservoir was closed for recreational use in 2008 when zebra mussels were discovered. The reservoir is owned by the Bureau of Reclamation and operated by the water district for agricultural uses.
The Bureau of Reclamation created an eradication plan in 2019 that involves two years of reservoir treatment and three years of monitoring. The treatment process includes drawing the reservoir down, treating it with potassium, flushing and refilling it, and keeping water treated for 45 days, according to a presentation by Graciela Rodriguez, an analyst with the county.
Stroup said it would cost an estimated $5 million to eradicate the zebra mussels, and depending on what funds are used for the project, the bureau may be required to recoup the costs.
“Everything Reclamation does or nearly everything Reclamation does is reimbursable,” Stroup said. “Meaning those who benefit from the action have to pay for the action. So when we are appropriated money and then we spend it for various actions we go and collect those costs from the water users.”
Stroup clarified that San Benito County Water District customers would ultimately pay for the project if the Bureau of Reclamation is required to recoup the costs.
Supervisor Bob Tiffany said that the community has been frustrated that the reservoir has been closed. And now learning that not only obtaining funding is an issue but that water district customers will be expected to pay the costs adds to the frustration.
In regards to obtaining funds, Phil Deppert, district director for Congressman Jimmy Panetta, said Panetta added language to the 2021 fiscal year appropriations bill stating the San Justo Reservoir was eligible to compete for funds from the Water Conservation and Delivery Account. He added that the process to distribute funds is underway.
“I can’t give you a time of when those decisions will be done, but I can tell you it will be relatively soon,” Deppert said. “And as soon as we get an answer, whether this money is going to end up in the Water Conservation and Delivery Account or not, I can circle back with the board and update everybody.”
Supervisor Kollin Kosmicki pleaded with the Bureau of Reclamation and Panetta’s office to find a way to fund the project.
“This is sort of like a nightmare for the community as far as recreation goes,” Kosmicki said, adding that he would like to have conversations about also using the reservoir area for recreation activities such as hiking.
Water district deputy engineer Garrett Haertel said, as he did in a presentation to the supervisors in 2019, that in addition to treating the reservoir, the entire system needed to be treated, “because of the interconnectivity of the two and how if you don’t eradicate the issue in one, it can reinfest the other. The project needs to address all those pertinent facilities.”
San Benito County Administration Officer Ray Espinosa asked Deppert and Stroup if funding was the only obstacle to proceeding with the eradication plan. Stroup said permits still need to be obtained from California to apply the chemicals in the reservoir but because they have expirations, the focus is on securing funding first. Deppert also said the county could not do anything to help expedite the process.
“The funding conversation rests squarely between the bureau headquarters and our office in D.C.,” Deppert said.
In his efforts to get funding for the project, Panetta sent a letter on Dec. 28 to Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Brenda Burman asking for $5 million to be budgeted to implement the Final Eradication Plan for the San Justo Reservoir Zebra Mussel Eradication Project.
In his letter, Panetta states that eradicating the zebra mussels would benefit San Benito County and California both economically and environmentally. Additionally, he writes, the Bureau of Reclamation would benefit by gaining a better understanding of how to combat “the spread of other larger and different types of infestations in our nation’s water systems.”
Burman replied on Jan. 12 that the BOR’s spending plan is under development.
“We will give the San Justo Zebra Mussel Eradication Project thorough and complete consideration.”
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