Valley Water working to complete draft environmental impact report for proposed expansion of Pacheco Reservoir

At the end of the last drought, Valley Water’s Board of Directors explored ways to increase Santa Clara County’s emergency water supply to help us weather future droughts. One of the options identified was the expansion of Pacheco Reservoir in South Santa Clara County.

Once again, Santa Clara County and much of California are in a drought emergency. This rainfall season was the driest since 1977. When combined with the 2019-20 rainfall season, it will mark the second driest two-year combination on record. 

In response, the Valley Water Board of Directors on June 9, 2021 declared a water shortage emergency condition in Santa Clara County. We are also calling for mandatory water use restrictions. On June 22, Santa Clara County followed our board’s action and proclaimed a local emergency related to the extreme drought conditions.

These existing drought conditions are precisely why the Board of Directors is evaluating the expansion of Pacheco Reservoir, a collaboration between Valley Water, the Pacheco Pass Water District and the San Benito County Water District.

By expanding Pacheco Reservoir, Valley Water could store up to 140,000 acre-feet of water in our county for use during droughts and other emergencies. Valley Water doesn’t currently have storage space to take advantage of the available imported water that could be stored in wet winters.

Valley Water will not receive a greater amount of water from the state or federal water projects than what we currently are allotted to fill an expanded Pacheco Reservoir. However, Pacheco Reservoir could capture and store local runoff and imported water supplies during wet winters. Valley Water and its partners could also purchase additional water at a lower cost from the state and federal government in wetter years when there’s a surplus and store it in Pacheco Reservoir.

The expanded Pacheco Reservoir will also reduce the frequency and severity of water shortages during droughts, preserve groundwater, protect infrastructure, and improve habitat for fish.

In May 2021, the Valley Water Board of Directors unanimously approved the fiscal year 2021-22 budget. Since the Pacheco Project is included in the budget, Valley Water staff will complete a draft environmental impact (EIR) report due at the end of 2021.

Valley Water will make the draft EIR available for viewing once it’s complete and allow ample time for public comment. Valley Water will hold a public meeting in early 2022 to present the draft EIR.

The Pacheco Project has already been awarded $496 million in conditional funding from the state’s Prop 1 Water Storage Investment Program (WSIP). Based on the project’s extensive public benefits, the Pacheco Reservoir Expansion Project received the highest rating under the WSIP program among all the projects to receive funding.

In February 2021, Valley Water held two virtual public scoping meetings and detailed five dam alternatives being evaluated for the Pacheco Reservoir Expansion Project as part of the California Environmental Quality Act process. Valley Water is also evaluating an option of no expansion.

Variations of the alternatives include two different locations, two dam types and two reservoir sizes. The cost estimates for the alternatives range from $2.1 billion to $2.5 billion.

We are actively looking at ways to bring down the costs to ratepayers. Beyond the $496 million in state money, we are looking at federal grants and the Biden administration’s infrastructure package. Valley Water is also applying for WIFIA funding, a low-cost federal loan that is cheaper than what Valley Water can borrow on its own, bringing down the loan costs needed to fund the project.

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