Business / Economy

Water’s important role in the county’s history

Since early settlement and food production in San Benito County, efforts have been made to achieve a balanced and sustainable groundwater basin

Part I- This article, presented by the Water Resources Association San Benito County, gives an early history on the development of our public water system. 

So far this year we have had a wet winter and the Sierra has snow. That’s great news!

People are starting to wonder, are we out of drought? But water is a long-term proposition. We can’t judge our water supply on one year of good rain and snowfall. We need to move toward a sustainable water future where our water needs can be met while protecting and satisfying the needs of the environment and future generations.

Examining our county’s water history one can see that at every juncture of growth, efforts were made to achieve a balanced and sustainable groundwater basin. Today is no different as we move forward in time.

Below is a brief outline of our county’s water history:

The Hollister Irrigation District was formed in 1922 after purchasing the privately constructed and owned Brown Company System. This consisted of the Paicines Reservoir, the Paicines Diversion Dam and canal, canals and ditches in the Hollister area, and also included the Perkins Diversion Dam on Southside Road.

In 1953, the state passed legislation establishing the District Act, forming the agency that would eventually become the San Benito County Water District (SBCWD).

In 1957, the financing for building and operating Hernandez Dam (shown in photo on right), and the reconstruction of the Paicines Canal and Diversion works were approved.

Due to an increase in population and agricultural activity in the Hollister-San Juan area, Hernandez Dam was needed to protect our local groundwater basin from being in overdraft. The dam is situated to capture water from the watershed surrounding San Benito Mountain, the highest point in our county at 5,267 feet. This water helps recharge our groundwater basin as the San Benito River travels from South County towards the Pajaro River on the northwest side of our county.

Twenty years later, after much work by local officials, civic leaders and residents, voters in San Benito County voted with 82 percent approval to fund the project to implement and import water. More water was needed for our growing county and voters wanted better water quality.

In 1978, the SBCWD entered into a contract with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) to finance the project and act as the delivering agency for the contracted 43,800 acre-feet of imported water for agriculture and 8,250 acre-feet for urban customers from the Central Valley Project.

In 1982, contracts were awarded to start construction on San Benito’s own distribution system to deliver the imported water from San Luis Reservoir, thus forming the San Felipe Division of the Central Valley Project.The local distribution system is comprised of eight pressure reducing turnouts, four pumping facilities (See San Luis pumps on right), eleven percolation sites, and the 10,000 acre foot San Justo Reservoir. A computerized telemetry system aids in delivering water through over 120 miles of buried pipe.

The USBR assets that the SBCWD shares with the Santa Clara Valley Water District are: The Pacheco Tunnel (on the right), Pacheco Pumping Plant and Pacheco Conduit.

The District’s share of the capital investment was over $120 million in 1987 dollars.

Part II will follow. bringing readers to the present San Benito County Water District. Many thanks to Shawn Novack with Water Resource Association San Benito County for doing the research and providing these articles.


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Shawn Novack

Shawn Novack is the Director of the Water Resources Association of San Benito County. The Association represents the City of Hollister, the City of San Juan Bautista, the Sunnyslope County Water District and the San Benito County Water District for all their water conservation and water resource protection programs. Shawn has been in the field of water conservation for 18 years. He has a certification as a Water Conservation Practioner from the American Water Works Association California/Nevada Chapter. He also is a Certified Landscape Irrigation Auditor through the Irrigation Association in Virginia. Before getting into the water industry, Shawn worked as a technical writer for the Naval Research Center in Monterey.