Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Effluent for the Affluent/Inside Poop of San Felipe Aqueduct

This is a long piece but is a good overview of the history of water management inthe Silicon Valley over the last 50 years.

Water and history students should push on and read to the end.

Effluent for the Affluent
or The Inside Poop of the San Felipe Aqueduct

Would you pay full price for a service that may not be available when you need it most? Would you choose this national provider over a local project that offers discounts (or rebates) of nearly 90% of its costs? Only some affluent type, like a Los Altos Hills attorney, might go for such a deal. Unfortunately, when those kinds of persons are public water officials for a growing California metropolis, cost is no object, and no objections are heeded or alternatives really considered.

Large civil engineering projects are often conceived 50 years before they are constructed. The entire history of San Jose revolves around the floods from the Guadalupe and Coyote Rivers. San Jose lost the honor of being the State Capital because of flooding. The US Corps of Engineers had managed to study the benefit/cost ratio of building local flood “control” projects from 1944 to 1994. When former Mayor and former Congressman Norm Mineta, as Chair of the House Public Works Committee, threatened to zero out the Corps budget, the project finally moved to construction phase, which then took another ten years to complete.

The pipe dream for the San Felipe Aqueduct began in the early 1940’s, as local farmers and civic leaders in the Santa Clara Valley searched for additional water for agriculture and an ever-growing number of residents. They saw the Federal Central Valley Water project giving farmers in the San Joaquin Valley guarantees of cheap, reliable supplies of water stored in large reservoirs on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Unfortunately, funding for the looming World War became the national priority. However, Congress agreed to study many grandiose ideas for water and power projects, but few projects could be afforded until after the war.

The post-war boom in California and the Bay Area saw huge growth in population and industry. Both swords and plows were now the bread and butter of the local economy. Water resources needed to be acquired for each growing sectors, agriculture and industry. In Santa Clara Valley, local farmers had led the way to build dams on local watersheds, and wisely use the groundwater basins in both ends of the valley to transmit, filter, and store the winter runoff, allowing new and existing wells to pump more water when and where it was needed. San Francisco and the East Bay instead fought and won long battles to appropriate and transfer vast amounts of water of the Mukelomne and Tuolomne Rivers flowing out from northern Sierra watersheds. San Francisco, after losing most of the city to fire after the 1906 earthquake gained enough sympathy from Congress to allow them to build a dam in Yosemite National Park in the Hetch Hetchy Valley, inundating what had been declared a national treasure. The battle that ensued gave birth to the Sierra Club, which to this day, continues its mission to protect the natural environment from the wrath of such massive terra forming projects.

This post-war growth soon outstripped the adequacy of the local supplies in the northern Santa Clara County, with overdrafting of the underground basins causing land surface subsidence, as surface deposits of clay from ancient floods dewatered into formerly artesian aquifers after they were pumped to historic low levels. Water shortages in the Valley, ironically, had become the cause for even greater flooding when the rains returned during wetter periods.
The once Port of Alviso sunk 13 feet, changing it into a local Holland-like environment. Privately owned salt evaporation ponds encroached on the would-be delta areas of local rivers, and sediment filled the mouth of local riverbeds and closed the Port of Alviso to even the smallest watercraft.

San Francisco built a southern branch of its aqueduct to serve several communities along the perimeter of the South Bay. However, private or investor-owned (IO) utilities were prevented by federal law from receiving and reselling water or power from the Hetch Hetchy project. San Jose and Campbell were served by such IO utilities, and needed to find different sources that they could tap to serve their ever-growing customer base. Since the public had already indebted themselves to build dams to augment the safe yield of the well fields, these utilities again turned to the local public water authority to secure imported water supplies for the Valley’s future growth.

Los Angeles had followed its water grab in the Owens Valley, with a more ambitious grab for water from the Colorado River. This fueled the uncontrolled growth of Southern California for a few decades until Arizona sued for its share of the lower Colorado supplies, which were already oversubscribed, since data from wet periods had been used for allocating supplies to its users. To replace and augment those supplies, Los Angeles and the Kern County farmers in south San Joaquin Valley forced Gov. Pat Brown to campaign for a State Water project to be built, with the Feather River to be dammed and the water transported by canals, including pumping 2000 ft over the Tehachapi Mountains at the southern end of the San Joaquin Valley. For the bonds to pass a statewide ballot, small projects had to be added to get needed support in the northern part of the state. Aqueducts to Napa, Alameda and Santa Clara Counties would be pipettes in comparison to the flows to the Kern County farmers and LA, but the bond issue passed in the early 1960’s and the State Water Project was to become a reality.

But the State Water Project would launch a local water war, the results of which still are visible in local water politics today. Santa Clara County had grown and during that growth, it grew a redundant layer of government. Both special water district agencies and the County government water agencies were both created to manage the same resource in the same watersheds. The special agencies had been formed under state law and had successfully funded and built 10 dams to recharge the local groundwater basins, nearly doubling their safe yield. The County agency function started primarily as a flood protection/drainage provider, but morphed into a largest threat ever to the local water leaders. To the normally strong contingent of Democrats on the Board of Supervisors, even in the early 60’s, Governor Pat Brown made them an “offer they couldn’t refuse.” – the South Bay Aqueduct. This new straw in the Delta would deliver enough water for the valley to grow by at least another half million people, and extra water to replenish the depleted aquifers below the quickly urbanizing valley floor.

Across the (Government) aisle, the special water districts, whose boards were peopled by farming interests or their urban supporters, had a nearly religious mantra about connecting the valley to the federal irrigation project being built in the Central Valley for the purpose of “reclaiming” arid land that nature had decided not to water to the extent needed by a local farmer. This project carried all kinds of subsidies for irrigation water, including zero interest on the capital portion dedicated to farm irrigation. Such welfare passed muster with the federal bean counters, knowing that eventually the land would be so heavily salted after some years of irrigation, and the land use would “progress” toward urbanization, and concrete and asphalt would help keep the desecrated soil from blowing around. Urban users paid full tariff for the remaining mortgage debt, and the land, with strong water rights available, was worth a hundred times the farmers’ original costs. A great business plan, if you can pull it off.

The two branches of government in Santa Clara County were now in fierce competition over control of this vital resource, one about to secure a large supply of water, the other owning the facilities designed to efficiently recharge the again depleted groundwater basins. Finally the Grand Jury called an inquisition about the situation and demanded that the competing bureaucrats and politicians merge their respective organizations into one agency. The enabling legislation was drafted by committee in the early 60’s and sent to the State legislature for approval. The resulting governing structure for local water management became a model for what should be called “diluted democracy,” with five members of the Water Board directors elected in the same five districts that the County Supervisors represented, and two “at large” directors were to be appointed by the supervisors, one each from the north and south parts of the county. With such a board makeup, elected directors needed a block of four instead of simply three votes to move forward, or block, any item on their agenda. Following his retirement, one of the former supervisors on the original drafting committee was appointed to the south county at-large seat and has served over twenty years on the Valley Water District Board of Directors.

The first Board of Directors were all appointed in 1968, and immediately went to work to secure federal appropriations for final studies and design of the San Felipe Unit. The planned project would serve up to four coastal counties (Santa Clara, San Benito, Santa Cruz and Monterey) from the Central Valley Project by building a tunnel through the mountains along Pacheco Pass, connecting to the 2 million acre foot off-stream San Luis Reservoir on the east end of the pass. Unfortunately, this period coincided with the Viet Nam war, and Congress did not begin funding water projects until the early 1970’s. Coincidentally, Congress also passed the Clean Water Act in 1970, making 75 % grants (plus 12.5% State grants) available for treating and recycling wastewater.

Also in 1970, the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board ordered the dischargers into the South Bay to prepare a plan for the disposition of wastewater flows, projected through the year 2000. One key task of this study was to evaluate the potential for recycling wastewater in Santa Clara County. After analyzing the constructed recharge capacity of the county, the engineering consortium of Consoer-Bechtel developed a cost estimate for an advance treatment and distribution system to recycle 100 million gallons per day into the groundwater basin. The water produced by the water purification system would have all organics and salts removed using activated carbon and reverse osmosis and be the cleanest water supply available to the valley. The estimated $100 million dollar project would receive combined 87.5% state and federal grants, leaving a $12.5 million dollar costs for local governments to fund. The net costs for the water was about $10/ac.-ft. of water, delivered to the groundwater basin.

Upon hearing a presentation of this proposal, the Water Board responded with immediate dread that such an option could derail Congressional funding for their preferred San Felipe water importation project. The Water District’s response was to hire the engineering consortium to prepare a supplemental report, one that developed costs for a much smaller project, which would raise the unit costs and make the project look less attractive, and of course, less threatening to the appearance of need for importing additional supplies from the Central Valley Project.

Such blatant use of engineering science to justify a political position of the Board was met with a challenge to one of the Board’s incumbents by one of the project engineers on the consulting team. Armed with deep background on the District’s infrastructure, and a strong belief that the public would best be served with the more efficient water management approach of recycling existing supplies for reuse, Pat Ferraro was elected to the Board in 1972, beating the incumbent by 635 votes, and splitting the Board’s unanimous rubber stamp of the staff’s approach to continuing to build a bigger linear system for the valley’s water supply. While most votes on the Board continued in favor of the importation option, State politics would soon intervene to give water recycling a major push.

Under the administration of Governor Jerry Brown, his progressive approaches to the State’s investments in infrastructure were a radical change. With appointments like Sim Van Der Ryn as the State Architect, concepts like “appropriate technology,” “small is beautiful” and passive solar design became new standards for State projects, as well as proposed changes to the uniform building code. The transportation department was run by Adriana Gianturco, a tough proponent of mass transit, who conditioned new freeway funding to requiring urban rail projects, trying to break the state’s addiction to automobiles for commuting. The State Department of Water Resources was headed by a brilliant water lawyer named Ron Robie. Mr. Robie had served in the previous Regan administration, who, as a member of the State Water Resources Control Board, authored and moved significant water policy to improve the coordination of water diversions from the Delta, where both the Federal government and the State Water Project both operated massive pumps to transfer six million acre-feet of water to contractors to the south.

One of Mr. Robie’s first actions as head of DWR was to withhold the critical endorsement by the State Water Commission of the San Felipe Project during its testimony in Washington DC before the House and Senate Appropriations Committee. Knowing that without the State’s support, congressional funding was hopeless, the Water District signed an agreement to reduce its San Felipe allotment by 15,000 ac.-ft. per year and a commitment to develop 30,000 ac-ft of recycled water within the county. Unfortunately, the design conducted by the state was again strongly influenced by the local water district staff, and the proposed reuse project consisted of a surface deliver system for several thousand acres of agriculture in the south county, carrying very high unit costs of $2,000 per ac.-ft. The District Board declared this to be “infeasible” and the project was never implemented.

Yet another water recycling study was conducted in the early 80’s to again evaluate the potential use for groundwater recharge. This project proposed to treat the effluent with activated carbon and reverse osmosis filters, blend it with local or imported supplies and recharge the water through existing percolation ponds. In addition, the concentrated salt brine would be crystallized and trucked to a Class I landfill. This last component, which included parallel pipelines for brine transmission, raised the cost to over $2,000 per ac.-ft. and it was again declared infeasible.

While these studies were progressing, the San Felipe Aqueduct was being constructed from 1977 until 1987. Since a fair compromise had been negotiated and signed with the State of California to incorporate recycled water into the Water District’s master plan, Ferraro dropped his opposition to the water importation project. The Environmental Impact Report had been certified and found to be adequate by the courts. The Federal Bureau of Reclamation had reservations, however, about the public support for the project and the willingness of the voters to support the bonds needed to construct the in-county distribution system to take the water from the federal project terminus at the base of Anderson Reservoir to the rest of the north county.

With the good timing of a severe two-year drought as a backdrop, the Water District called for an election in 1978 asking the voters of Santa Clara County to approve the sale of $56 million dollars in revenue bonds to finance the in-county distribution system. Despite the drought, the election barley received a simple majority, the legal requirement for revenue bonds. A quick sale of $2 million of the bonds helped the District secure the legality of the bond issue and gave it the needed cash to develop more detailed engineering plans for the in-county pipelines and treatment plants. Soon the Board was informed that the approved bonds would only pay for less than half of the local facilities, and that the total costs would be closer to $150 million. The difference would be financed by raising water rates and generating sufficient, cash to allow pay-as-you-go financing for the remainder of the money needed for the system completion. This would essentially force existing businesses and residents to pay for over half of the facilities that would serve future growth, a boon to land speculators and developers throughout the county. One could call it “Chinatown North,” harkening to the movie of the Los Angeles Owens Valley water grab that made millions for San Fernando Valley speculators earlier in the century.

A further plumb to the landowners in the South County occurred when the District chose to abandon its “pooling concept” for setting water rates within the county. Despite the fact that all the new source of federal water was available to the entire county, and the federal charge for agricultural water would be set based on the “ability to pay” for local farmers, the District set up a new zone of benefit for the South County farmers and set water rates to recover only the costs incurred to serve water within this new zone. While the contract with the Federal government provided that agricultural water be sold to the District at a mere $16 per acre-foot, the District melded this cost with the local supplies and set the agricultural rate a $5.50 per acre-foot, and this rate remained frozen at or below $11.50 per acre-foot until 2001. Pumping rates in the North County went from $100 per acre-foot to $330 per acre-foot for urban water suppliers in that same period.

The District eventually moved away from using crop factors to determining water charges and began putting meters on the wells of the largest agricultural users. The revenue collected from the farmers, however, did not even cover the cost of reading and maintaining the meters. The water was basically being delivered free, at least from the District’s net revenue perspective.

Gilroy city council members would often testify at rate hearings that farmers would quit farming and sell to developers (sooner rather than later) if the agricultural water rates were increased. Securing development rights in exchange for this receiving cheap water was never suggested or required, however.

In order to demonstrate that raising water rates would not severely impact the farmers, one year Director Ferraro analyzed the value of each crop grown in the county, using the Agriculture Commissioner’s annual report and calculated the percentage of water cost for each crop and a sensitivity analysis for various rate increases. Doubling and tripling the rates showed only increases of a fraction of a percent of the crop value, certain evidence that the rates need not be kept at such low levels. The Board and staff ignored the unauthorized study, stating that it was not District policy to set its water rates on ability to pay.

In 1987, the San Felipe Aqueduct was finally completed and a elaborate ceremony was held at the 24,000 HP pumping plant above San Luis Reservoir.
The pumps would take water through the original inlet constructed before the reservoir was first filled in the early 1960’s. The pumps lifted the water about 300 feet into a tunnel bored through the Gabalan Mountain Range and connecting pipelines, siphons and another shorter tunnel to the west of the San Luis Reservoir, roughly paralleling the Pacheco Pass/Hwy 152. Finally the Federal portion of the project pipeline terminated at another 12,000 HP pump station at the base of Andersen Reservoir near the town of Morgan Hill. Total construction costs were just under $345 million. This amounted to nearly three times the costs estimates originally used in the South Bay Dischargers Study in 1970 to compare it with the nearly equal total cost for building an equivalent recycling program for the county.

All the political maneuvering to keep this project “on-line” for the previous 40 years was finally crowned with the financing scheme developed to assure that the landowners with the most to gain, paid the least amount for the water project they fostered for so long. Because the Water District signed a “water service” contract, they were only obligated to pay a set amount for each acre-foot of water delivered to the farmers or urban users ($16 and $56 per ac.-ft, respectively). But the true amortization costs, even at a low federal interest rate of 5%, was nearly $20 million per year. This left a deficit payment on the books accumulating each year, which the federal Office of Management and Budget decided to charge at a full 8% interest. Even when the District was building a huge cash reserve from the rates that jumped from $100 to $262 per acre-foot in the North County, the staff and Board refused to buy down the debt. The cash was instead invested in a portfolio earning about 6% interest, creating a “reverse arbitrage” situation with the public’s funds.

But it’s not too difficult to understand why the Water District wanted to slow down the payment of the San Felipe debt. For all the waiting, politicking, and bickering that went on during its 40-year dream state, once the project was complete in 1987, California was in the second year of what would be a record setting six-year drought. The Bureau of Reclamation was placing 40-50% cutbacks on all its contactors, based on historic deliveries through the Central Valley Project. Since the San Felipe contractors in Santa Clara and San Benito Counties had no history, the Feds got to pick any number they wanted to deliver through the aqueduct. Despite huge amounts of wailing from local representatives, the Santa Clara Valley Water District’s allocations from San Felipe were far below their contract entitlement of 152,000 ac.-ft. per year.
The State responded to the drought with creation of emergency water banks, which allowed urban areas to purchase additional supplies to makeup their local demands that mandatory conservation could not reduce. SCVWD spent $12 million buying “bank” water during the first three years after the great “Dream” aqueduct went on line. When the project was criticized as a “turkey” by one of it’s directors, the rest of them pounced on him, saying that it was the plumbing that was important, not the guarantee of the water supply.

And tapping into the Delta for more imported water for the Valley certainly was not any kind of guarantee for water due to the ensuing collapse of the ecosystem “house of cards.” Many environmentalists, including public agency fishery biologists and aquatic species specialists pointed to water diversions as the culprit for declines in several anadramous species of salmon, stripped bass, and the delta smelt. In addition, invasive species from foreign ship bilge water, like the small clam, potamacorbula, was itself capable of growing 10,000 clams per square meter and was capable of drawing all the nutrients from the water column, precluding other top feeding species from survival. Lastly, the ecosystem collapse was occurring from the discharge of millions of gallons of municipal sewage and agricultural drainage from the millions of acres of irrigated farmlands upstream of the pumps, in both San Joaquin and Sacramento River watersheds. So despite local leaders desire to not reuse sewage from its own communities, both the San Felipe Aqueduct and the South Bay Aqueduct of the State Water Project both import mixtures of municipal sewage from Sacramento, Stockton and Modesto plus agricultural runoff containing pesticides and fertilizers and salts left on the soil from evaporation.

The Central Valley Water Project was originally conceived as having an agricultural drainage system to make it sustainable. History taught us that many civilizations that practiced irrigated agriculture were destroyed once the soils were saturated by the salts left in the soil from many consecutive years of applying surface or well waters to irrigated crops. In order to protect the federal investments of the Reclamation Act that brought irrigation to millions of acres of arid lands in the West, drainage systems were to be built in addition to the canals supplying the irrigation water. As the engineers planned the Central Valley Project drainage system, Contra Costa County vigorously blocked any attempt to allow discharge into the estuary and Monterey County had its bay declared a “marine sanctuary” precluding shipping drainage over the coastal range to the Pacific Ocean. So the Bureau of Reclamation decided to build a drainage collection system that ended in a series of ponds within the Central Valley at a town named Kestersen, which would become as infamous as the Love Canal in Niagara Falls, N.Y. Soon, the flow of pesticides and metallic salts, including large concentrations of selenium leached from newly irrigated lands of the western regions of the valley, began to show their presence. Biologists began documenting widespread occurrences of soft-shelled eggs and deformed chicks of the migrating waterfowl attracted to these created wetlands situated within the Pacific Flyway. The Bureau of Reclamation was forced to close and fill the wetlands and plug all the connecting drainage pipes leading to the disaster area. The salts and the pesticides would now simply accumulate on the low point of the irrigated farms, beginning the process that would eventually destroy the agricultural productivity of the land forever.

The absence of a drainage system was not the only nail in the coffin of Central Valley agriculture. With two massive pumping systems diverting 6 million acre feet of water from the southern Delta, salt water from the tidal flow in the San Francisco Estuary could easily mix with the fresh water flowing down the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, polluting the drinking and irrigation water being pumped to contractors throughout the state. In the early years of the operations of both systems, millions of ac.-ft of “carriage” water was released through upstream dams to repel the salt water from the tides before it reached the pumps. During the drought of 1976-77, reservoir storage levels became so critically low that sufficient carriage water was not available and imported supplies became too salty. The high sodium concentration of the imported Delta water caused sediments in local percolation ponds to harden to a concrete-like substance, sealing the ponds and halting their ability to percolate and recharge the groundwater basin. The State realized that it needed to build the essential missing piece of plumbing in its Delta water system - the Peripheral Canal.

It was Pat Brown who championed the State Water Project during his administration, so it was ironic that his son, Jerry Brown would be governor when it became essential that the Peripheral Canal needed to be built to protect the quality of the state’s drinking and irrigation water. Unfortunately, a referendum placed on the ballot to reverse the legislatures approval of the Canal became the hot-button issue that would nearly cause a civil war within the State of California. The legislative package that authorized the building of the Peripheral Canal also included a ballot measure that placed a constitutional protection for the quality of water that could be pumped from the Delta. When, or if, the salt content became too great, the pumps would shut down in order to protect the millions of acres of farmlands from salinization or human health and landscaping in urban areas receiving Delta waters.

The referendum campaign showed a great deal about California politics. While northern cities like Oakland and San Francisco had built aqueducts to serve the metropolitan areas around the Bay, the flow of Northern California water to southern California was considered to be an evil “water grab” by most northern Californians. Stopping the Peripheral Canal was perceived as a way to stop this water theft by Los Angeles, where water was only flowing south to fill swimming pools. The Mayor of San Jose, Janet Grey Hayes, joined in the ruckus by declaring “We’ll sell them our wine, but damned if we’ll give them our water!” (Shades of Marie Antionette) The Stop the Canal campaign was lead by a Contra Costa Supervisor named Sunne McPeak. Contra Costa County’s water comes directly from the Delta and its intake would have to be relocated with the building of the Canal to improve and protect the quality of its supply.
The quality issue never sunk in to McPeak’s rationale for the issue focused solely on loss of control to the State who would operate the Canal.
In San Jose, a delegation from the water Board lead by Director Pat Ferraro met with the editorial board of the San Jose Mercury News. Ferraro reminded them that newspaper’s editorial board had supported all the efforts to secure a plentiful water supply for the Santa Clara Valley (soon to be called Silicon Valley) and they needed to now support the Peripheral Canal to protect the water quality of our imported supply. The San Jose Mercury New would be the only newspaper in Northern California to support the Canal, and would lessen its defeat in our county to only 9 to 1.

The campaign also showed the hand of one of the true movers and shakers in California water politics, a cotton grower in Tulare County named George Boswell. The Boswell family had come to California after the bowevil destroyed their plantations in the Southern US. Once here, they began diking and filling California’s greatest wetland, Tulare Lake, to plant cotton. Boswell’s father married a member of the Otis family, owners of the Los Angeles Times and big supporters and beneficiaries of the Owens Valley water grab for LA in the early 20’s. With increased political connections, the Boswells were able to get the Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Reclamation to compete with each other to build dams on the four rivers that flowed into Tulare Lake and provide “flood control” for the cotton crops planted in the middle of this great wetland. So why would a large agribusiness owner contribute $2 million to a campaign to stop the Peripheral Canal?

The difference in the quality of the water by building the Peripheral Canal was, on average, 100 parts per million of salt. That translates to approximately
2 million tons of salt each year within the six million ac.-ft of water that are pumped from the Delta. Without any drainage system, much of that salt would remain in the irrigated farmland and eventually destroy the lands ability to grow crops. But once-arid, level land with a secure water supply would be worth far more as urban land, easily converted from farm land if it had been salted in from years of irrigation. Without the Peripheral Canal, this would occur twice as fast and allow the San Joaquin Valley to become the great metropolis of SacroBake, a future urban sprawl stretching 250 miles from Sacramento to the Tehachapi Mountains at the southern end of the valley. The Boswells would join the rest of their silent partners in reaping billions of dollars from converting the reclaimed lands served by the Bureau of Reclamations programs that were intended only to created viable agriculture in the desert.

And while Santa Clara County receives its portion of the salt, along with the 150,000 ac.-ft per year of Delta water from its two aqueduct supplies, the wastewater it produces is still not salty enough to discharge into the South Bay.
In an irony too good to imagine by the merriest jokester, US Fish and Wildlife biologists discovered that our increased flows of “fresh” water discharges from our South Bay wastewater treatment plants were destroying the salt marsh habitat for two endangered species: the California clapper rail and the salt marsh harvest mouse. Too much fresh water being discharged into South San Francisco Bay drastically changed the delicate mix of fresh and salt water and the ecological balance of the Bay's fragile habitat. So the Regional Water Quality Control Board placed a flow cap of 120 million gallons per day in the summer months on the San Jose-Santa Clara Water Pollution Control plant’s discharge permit. In order for San Jose to continue its growth, all additional wastewater produced above that flow would have to be recycled and uses found for the new nonpotable supply. In the next decade after the State Water Board upheld the order, the City of San Jose, as operator of the wastewater plant, spent nearly $250 million building additional treatment, pumping plants and nearly 100 miles of pipelines to distribute the reclaimed effluent to various large users of irrigation and cooling water throughout the Santa Clara Valley.
The Water District grudgingly participated in subsidizing the cost for delivering this water to customers, while setting the amount in a way that would safeguard the revenue lost by replacing district supplies. This conservative approach was certainly quite the opposite to the District’s approach to setting agricultural rates that actually lost money on San Felipe deliveries, especially in the South County.

When a controversial proposal to build a 600 megawatt gas fired turbine power plant in South San Jose agreed to use recycled cooling water for its cooling towers, the Water District bought some additional capacity in the pipeline extension to the treatment plant. The District is currently planning to build a 5 million gallon per day microfiltration/reverse osmosis treatment plant in the Coyote Valley to protect the unconfined aquifer from the residual pollutants in the current supply of recycled water. It is apparent that this approach to implementing recycling in the County fits the desires of its largest water retail contractor, San Jose Water Company.

Despite over 100 miles of recycled water pipelines running in and through its service area, this investor-owned utility has not connected any of its 400,000 customers to the South Bay Water Recycling system. Neither has San Jose or any other building department mandated that any new or existing connections use recycled water for a broad list of acceptable uses. These include irrigation of most agricultural crops, landscape irrigation of playgrounds, golf courses, parks, cemeteries, freeway embankments and medians, water for construction, ornamental fountains and impoundments, industrial uses, and indoor toilet and urinal flushing. Section 13550 of the California Water Code states that it is a “waste and unreasonable use” to use potable water for the above uses when recycled water is available. This litigation is waiting to happen, and it is surprising that none of the environmental advocacy groups has yet to file such a complaint against the parties involved in this grandiose ignorance of the law and the recognition of the future scarcity of water in California’s near future.
While it is the water company’s role to make a profit for its stockholders, it is the State and Water District’s role to assure a safe and adequate supply of water for the residents and businesses of Santa Clara County.

1 comment:

David Roode said...

I hear tell that the Palo Alto (/Mountain View/Los Altos/Los Altos Hills) water treatment plant recharges some of its recycled water into the aquifer. Any idea if this is accurate? They say they do, but that they can't dispose of all of it that way, it's too much to recharge.

What's the water district doing for the north county? How come the water treatment plans in the south bay haven't been able to already recharge the ground water like this?