2017: A year in review

By Board Director John L. Varela, District 1

2017 will be a memorable year for Santa Clara County, especially for water resources management. It was the year that broke our state’s longest dry streak with record-setting precipitation. A year of transition between extremes – from drought to floods. A year for big decisions on the future of our water supply. And it was a year to redouble our commitment to preparing for wet and dry years to ensure safe, clean water for a healthy life, environment and economy for the Silicon Valley. As outgoing Board Chair of the Santa Clara Valley Water District, I am proud to reflect on some of the year’s highlights.

A historic flood along Coyote Creek was a vivid reminder that flood risks persist in our county, and our hearts go out to those affected. Despite our investments of close to $1 billion in flood protection projects over several decades protecting nearly 100,000 parcels, our work is far from completed. The Coyote Creek flood has ignited a new urgency in our fight to reduce flood risks and help keep communities safe.

This year, we completed the Lower Silver Creek Flood Protection Project in east San José. The project extends approximately 4.4 miles from its connection at Coyote Creek to Cunningham Avenue. When the Lake Cunningham detention basin is completed it will protect approximately 3,800 homes and businesses. Flood protection projects are large, complex undertakings, requiring intense coordination with local, state, federal and regulatory agencies.

After the Coyote Creek flood in February, my colleagues and I led advocacy efforts in Washington D.C. to seek federal funding and support changes to the regulatory permitting process which has delayed many important flood protection projects. At home, we took immediate action to build short-term flood barriers at the Rock Springs neighborhood, remove invasive vegetation along Coyote Creek, remove downed trees and potential creek blockages, and partnered with the City of San José to approve a Joint Emergency Action Plan which outlines a detailed strategy for preparing and responding to potential flood threats in San José waterways. The board also approved new operating parameters at Anderson and Coyote reservoirs to create more storage space, further reducing the chance of flooding.

In one of the most critical decisions of the year, the water district board voted to conditionally participate in the California WaterFix project to improve the infrastructure that carries water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Our board developed a list of seven guiding principles to work with state and water agency partners to examine a less costly, scaled-down and staged project that would serve Silicon Valley’s needs, as well as our partner agencies’.

To further improve reliability of our imported water supply sources, we applied for $484.5 million in state funding for the potential expansion of the Pacheco Reservoir. Located about 13 miles southwest of San Luis Reservoir near Highway 152, this project offers emergency and drought-year supply, fish habitat enhancement, flood protection and other benefits.

Another way we are preparing for the future is through expanding use of recycled water. This year we celebrated the completion of 2.5 mile recycled water pipeline along Wolfe Road in Sunnyvale. The project will allow us to conserve our drinking water and preserve our groundwater. The project was also a shining example of how Silicon Valley businesses and local governments can successfully invest in our region’s water infrastructure, paving the way for future collaborations.

In a landmark decision, the water district board voted to pursue a public-private partnership (P3) for our purified water program in which one entity would finance, build and operate a new facility to produce highly purified water. In December 2017, the board voted to expand the list of qualified P3 entities by issuing a new Request for Qualifications and ultimately selecting a P3 entity through a Request for Proposals by the end of 2018, which will set us up for a busy year working to ensure we meet our water supply needs.

No doubt about it, 2017 was a forward-moving year. I wouldn’t expect anything less for the Silicon Valley and I am humbled to have led the efforts this year. Follow more of what we accomplished throughout the year in our 2017 annual report available on www.valleywater.org.

 As always, I am available for questions or comments as your District 1 representative for the Cities of Morgan Hill, San Martin, Gilroy and hills east of San Jose and Milpitas. For further information, contact your elected district representative, John L. Varela at jvarela@valleywater.org.

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