I was asked by the editor, a former staff member of the SCVWD's Public Information Office, to participate in the drafting of the text for the history book, having served on the Board during most of the 25 years which were being covered in this second edition.(1980-2005)
It became obvious that this would be a 200 page PR Press release, complete with manufactured quotes.
The printed edition, available at the local libraries, is very pretty and the history is sanitized so that all the water and appended politics is squeaky clean.
Something to add to the Law- & Sausage-Making adage.
Below are my responses to the questionnaire.
History students take note.
Water in the Santa Clara Valley: a History (Second Edition)
QUESTIONS FOR BOARD CONSIDERATION
* The history book is quite long; we do not attempt to question you on every topic. In the event you wish to comment on a topic not presented here, or if you would like to discuss in-depth any of these topics, please contact editor Cheryl Wessling.
* Text in italics represents excerpts from the book. Text in red represents suggested quotes.
Chapter 9: The Dream Is Built
San Felipe Project
#1. The controversy of whether or not to build the San Felipe Water Project was adequately covered in the first edition. The second edition covers the project’s actual construction in the early 1980s. During its construction, did support for the project remain unanimous, or was there some uncertainty about how this massive project would play out for Santa Clara County? Would one of you agree with this suggested quote: According to XX, “We benefit today from the foresight of water planners from as far back as the 1940s. Few agencies have as many water sources as we do. If the early planners hadn’t seen the San Felipe supply as an opportunity and seized it, the valley’s development would likely have been capped off a long time ago.”
Pat Ferraro: I certainly do not agree with the simplicity of this statement. San Felipe was favored in the 40’s because it was the only import available to the County, except Hetch Hetchy, which the northern cities were comfortable enough using their direct contracts with San Francisco. Additional water from Hetch Hetchy was not in the immediate plans, so the CVP, especially with its agricultural subsidy of 0% interest component on capital, was very appealing to the local farmer/water politicians that were in charge of the District at the time. Once this course was set, despite funding cutoffs and the Board of Supervisors’ contracting with the State for 100,000 ac-ft to come through the South Bay Aqueduct, the San Felipe Project was relentlessly pursued by the political remnants of the old guard of the Valley Water Conservation District Board.
The funding curtailment for CVP, due to the enormous drain on the federal budget of the Vietnam War, kept construction money from being appropriated until 1973. The CEQA /NEPA process, once launched required that alternatives be considered. By this time Congress had passed the Clean Water Act, making 75% grants available for Water Recycling Projects, with matching 12.5% grants from the State of California. Local costs for a Water Recycling plan for 100mgd system, including activated carbon & reverse osmosis treatment and distribution, were estimated at about $12/ ac-ft. US EPA Region 9 Administrator, Paul DeFalco, also sent a letter to the District, offering to buy the development rights of the Coyote Valley, as part of the treatment process (residuals soil treatment. This component of the recycling plan would have created a permanent greenbelt south of metropolitan San Jose and prevented other land uses from occurring on this highly porous portion of the valley, which could impair the groundwater quality.
The Board of SCVWD signed the contract in 1977 after the local Measure H campaign was passed to sell bonds to pay for about half the local costs of the San Felipe Project. The other half would be paid, on pay-as-you-go financing by increasing the wholesale water rates, primarily in the North County. South County M&I rates were increased to about $100 per ac-ft, and the City of Morgan Hill was brought into a newly created zone to generate revenue to pay a much smaller portion of the San Felipe costs than North County would adsorb. Agricultural pumping rates were frozen at $10-12/ac-ft, which is about where they remain today.
After ten years of construction, San Felipe went on line in 1987, with a great “Turn On” celebration at the Pacheco Pumping station. (Sidebar Note: The entire horizontal and vertical alignment of San Felipe was redesigned when it was learned that a longer gravity tunnel was too expensive and a shorter tunnel at a higher elevation, fed by a 24,000 HP pump station, would be cheaper to build. Operational costs for the pumping were not considered to be a constraint, since WAPA, a sister Federal agency to USBurRec, would provide the power at below market rates. Last year’s energy crisis showed even WAPA that the power generation in California is limited and WAPA now is looking for renewable, distributed generation projects to augment its supply and reliability of power.)
In 1987, when San Felipe first went online, the State was a couple years into one of the longest natural droughts in recent history. The Bureau was cutting both M&I and Ag contractors deliveries by 50% in most cases. Since the District did not yet have a delivery history, our initial deliveries had to be negotiated. Instead of receiving the 150,000 ac-ft that we had contracted to receive, our first deliveries was about _______Ac-ft. Water banks were set up by the State for local agencies to buy additional water from other entities. The District signed a contract to pay $6 million for 90,000 ac-ft of water from Bullard’s Bar reservoir near Marysville. Other purchases amounting to another $6million were also executed during the remaining drought, which continued through 1993. This enormous drain nearly eliminated the District Cash reserves in the Water Utility Enterprise, resulting in the Board adopting a 50% increase in wholesale rates in 1993 to keep the utility solvent. The ultimate irony of this financial history is that the District spent as much cash to put water into new aqueduct, as it would have cost for the entire local share of the previously mentioned 100 mgd water recycling system that was proposed as an alternative under the CEQA/NEPA document.
Today, SCVWD is studying new “band-aids” to the San Felipe Project, due to a water quality problem that occurs in the summer, when algae is pulled into the pumps when the San Luis Reservoir is down to 200,000 ac-ft of storage. This project could cost as much as the entire original San Felipe costs, and divert cash from local projects, like enhancing the four existing water recycling systems in operation in San Jose-Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Palo Alto and Gilroy. Sounds like history is repeating itself. No lessons learned from the last 25 years, since the information above has not been clearly and openly discussed by the project engineers evaluating the San Luis Bypass Project. But the CEQA/NEPA process awaits.
Santa Teresa WTP
#2. The second edition covers construction of the Santa Teresa WTP and reviews how nearby homeowners were leery of how the facility would affect their neighborhood—and how the district went to great effort to allay those fears. We would like to interject a quote from a board member who held office in 1984 stating that, “The Santa Teresa plant was proposed at a time when the water district culture was becoming increasingly aware of the importance of community support and collaborative efforts,” said XX.
Pat Ferraro: That would not have been me. The District was forced to buy much more land for the project than necessary, when the major property owner rushed a subdivision map through City Hall, and forced us to buy the entire parcel at building lot value for all the “paper” lots created by the new map. San Jose certainly knew what was going on, but approved the map anyway, and let the District write the check. At the public hearing, the neighbors argued that they had been using horse trails through this area, and the District must make their lands newly purchased for the treatment plant available for continued horse trail use. My comment was that that was quite an elitist benefit for a public agency to have to provide to a select few people that would benefit from keeping this land open to the public. I was verbally attacked after the hearing for such a “Low blow.”
Imported Supplies: No Guarantees
#3. As a board that has put tremendous energy and financial investment into developing imported water sources, what are your sentiments and reactions to being left shy of the contracted allotments—first because of the drought (1986-1992) and then because of Delta issues? Was there discussion of taking some kind of action, or was the board simply understanding of the SWP/CVP operational struggles?
Pat Ferraro: As I’ve stated in response to Question #1, the focus on imported supplies has distracted the District from it’s development of local supplies, especially water recycling. Despite the inclusion of water recycling in the IWRP, the District’ s actual development of recycled water has been limited to contributing a small percentage of the cost of producing this new supply. The institutional issues that exist, where the four cities (San Jose, Sunnyvale, Palo Alto and Gilroy) own and operate the recycling plants, allows the District to comfortable sit in the back seat, and not take the responsibility for the lack of increasing the marketing of recycled water for non-potable uses throughout the county. The State Water Code contains many provisions whereby using potable water is illegal when recycled water is available. Yet in the most recent decade, thousands of ac-ft of demand has been added within the District’s service area for irrigation, toilet flushing and industrial processes and cooling towers that could have been connected to the water recycling.
This increased demand for potable water is perceived by the District as more justification for fixing the Delta through the CALFED process and keeping the import pumps running and keep importing half of our water. Instead this should be an opportunity for rethinking the huge risk of relying on supplies that can be curtailed by natural or regulatory drought, brought on endangered species issues. Again, the irony is that the South Bay Water Recycling was finally build in response to endangered species issues, right here in the South San Francisco Bay, while the import pumps in the Delta can shut off under the same federal legislation.
#4. The 1980s and early 1990s was a period of large amounts of construction—both water supply and flood control projects—as well as a boom in the business and residential construction in the valley. Do any of you have comments about the remarkable growth of the valley; the challenge of keeping infrastructure apace of population growth?
Pat Ferraro: My most critical comment appears in #3 above. Much of this new construction should have been connected to water recycling systems, which would have provide a more reliable, locally controlled source of water for most of the needs of these projects. 60% of the demand for the District’s supplies is for irrigated landscape, 10 % for toilet flushing, and 10% for industrial uses. If this 80% of demand were supplied as recycled to new construction, the impact on the potable sources would have been reduced by a factor of five.
#5. In 1997, the Board passed a resolution supporting the expanded use of recycled water. What were the Board’s thoughts behind that new policy? Why did you believe it was important?
Pat Ferraro: I found this to be important in 1970 as a project engineer for Consoer-Bechtel, studying the disposition of wastewater from north county into San Francisco Bay. When I realized that the wasted water would be given the added treatment equivalent to a conventional water treatment plant backed up to the existing sewage treatment plant, I realized that this discharge was a waste of precious water resources, and that a “ NO Deposit/No Return” era for water management must come to an end.
However, the District’s response to this philosophy was pure paranoia. The District Board’s response was to fear that this very credible engineering study, with its recommendations for building a 100 mgd water recycling system in the valley, would derail Federal funding for San Felipe. The District’s response was to hire this engineering consortium and have them size a smaller system with higher unit costs that would make San Felipe water costs appear more favorable.
This politicizing of the Engineering Sciences resulted in yours truly in running for the District Board in 1972, challenging and beating a well-known and respected member of the community. After six four-year terms on the Board, I resigned in 1995, as the four existing water recycling systems were finally built by the cities, despite all the studies by the District in the interim, which all said it was too expensive.
#6. After Sept. 11, the water district implemented some new safety measures. How important was it to take these extra precautions? Were the expanded safety efforts driven by the public’s apprehensions, or were they something the Board believed was necessary to further ensure the safety of the water supply?
Pat Ferraro: I was more in opposition to the Board’s response to the corporate terrorism that occurred in California during the so-called energy crisis of 2001. The Board, upon staff’s recommendation, appropriated $2 million to buy, rent and install diesel powered generators at all the treatment plants and local pumping stations. This response reflected the District’s failure to use its existing authority granted by the State in its enabling legislation in 1978 to be a power producer. This is in keeping with so many other major water agencies, like San Francisco Hetch Hetchy, Los Angeles Water & Power, Modesto Irrigation District, to name a few.
Nearly a dozen engineering studies were performed and identified several megawatts of hydroelectric power producing projects within the District’s infrastructure. All but one small project at Andersen Dam was scrapped (actually buried in the District library), until they were retrieved and reviewed in 2002 by a local engineering company. These projects were discouraged largely by PG&E, who offered the District minimal amounts for the power and refused to wheel it for the District’s own use. Since the District staff did not fully understand the intricacies of power transmission, they did not choose to learn the engineering science and use its existing authority to produce power for its own needs.
During the so-called Energy Crisis, the District’s PIO issued many honest information ads indicating that the District was the largest power user in the valley, so “Saving Water Saved Energy”. My reaction was: “If you’re not part of the solution, you are probably part of the problem.“
Chapter 10: Dealing with the Delta
Note: Editor Cheryl Wessling would like to request an in-depth interview, if possible, on this chapter with the board director representing the board’s interests on Calfed.
#7. We’d like having a quote from a board director who held office during the early 1980s; the quote is to support the paragraph that follows it: “We became quite involved in the debate for Delta water quality standards,” recalled district board director XX. The water district campaigned to reconcile conflicting drinking water quality standards, urging the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA) “in the strongest possible terms” to demand establishment of reasonable standards by the State Department of Health Services. In a resolution and letter to the association, the District Board of Directors said the “condition of uncertainty caused by official inaction is intolerable.”
Pat Ferraro: I do not actually recall this letter to ACWA, although I served at the time on their 100+ member board of Directors, made up mostly of farmers, who could care less about drinking water safety issues. If it wasn’t TOO salty, and wet, the pumps should keep sending them all the water they wanted. See below for some more comments about SALT.
#8. Do any of you recall struggling to convince local voters of the district’s stance to support the Peripheral Canal?
Pat Ferraro: I served as a lead Board member on the local “citizens” committee on the Peripheral Canal referendum. I quickly realized the biggest problem we faced with our local voters was their lack of knowledge of how the Delta water reached Santa Clara County and the rest of the state to the south. This resulted in some angry words with the then PIO for achieving such a low level of understanding in the community.
The citizens committee was not much better informed, at first. They wanted to launch a campaign telling voters that our water supply was at risk if the referendum killed the Peripheral Canal. After all the effort to finally get San Felipe online, I knew that local constituents would doubt such statements, since this project had been sold as the key to satisfying our water supply needs for the next half century, at least. So the campaign was re-structure completely around the water quality implications if the Peripheral Canal was not built. We took this rational to the San Jose Mercury News Editorial Board and convinced them of this important fact. I told them that, after supporting the District so strongly all during the battle to build San Felipe, they needed to stand behind us now to protect the water quality of the imported water that we were able to bring into the County. The San Jose Mercury News was the only paper in Northern California to endorse and support the Peripheral Canal Consequently; it only lost by 9 to 1 in this County, a relative victory compared to other counties that voted 9.9 to 1 to stop the PC.
The Statewide campaign against the PC was led by then Contra Costa Supervisor Sunnie McPeak. The major contributor to this campaign was the Boswell-Sawyer cotton conglomerate in the Central Valley. While we were successful in getting the agriculture-controlled ACWA Board to oppose the referendum and support the canal, this huge donation to support the referendum seemed mysterious. Why would a major agricultural user want to stop construction of a key piece of plumbing that would lower the salinity of water exported from the Delta by 200 milligrams per liter?
This may not sound like a lot, but the total annual salt load in all the six million ac-ft of water taken from the Delta each year adds up to about 2 million tons of salt per year, with at least one-third of that being applied to the Central Valley arid lands “reclaimed” by the Federal Bureau of RECLAMATION to be a resource to the nation for food and fiber production. And remember, the CVP has no drainage system since Kesterson Reservoir was closed because of its toxicity to birds on the International Flyway.
So why salt in farmland? Maybe the corporate long-term strategy isn’t about farming at all.
District Positions on Imported Water Use
#9. We have read that if the state’s agricultural use of water were reduced by just 10 percent, there would be significantly less stress on the imported supply systems. What changes in statewide water use policies does our board advocate, if any? Is the board working with other urban water agencies to advocate such changes?
Pat Ferraro: Not that I can see. Deputy Executive Officer Larry Kolb was nearly booed out of the Board Room during a discussion of TMDL’s when he suggested that if all that water wasn’t given to the farmers, they wouldn’t pollute it with fertilizers and pesticides and send it back to the rivers flowing into the Delta. (I guess that makes the State and CVP water projects the de facto San Joaquin Drains, as the pumps send all the mixed drainage south again.)
Chapter 11: The Dry Road to Water Conservation
#10. Please consider the suggested quote indicated in red: In April 1988, with its reservoirs virtually empty and the groundwater supply dangerously low, the water district’s board of directors made its first move toward conservation: It asked residents to voluntarily use 15 percent less water than what they had used in the previous year . . .. Board director [possibly the director who chaired the board during 1988?] XX said the water district asked residents to use water efficiently and to do “small things, like fix leaks and stop hosing off driveways.”
Pat Ferraro: 1988 was not the first time that the District requested voluntary water conservation. A Much more severe, while shorter in time, occurred during 1976-77 water years. The entire state was nearly out of water because no one anticipated that a second critically dry year in 1977 would occur after the first drought year in 1976.
San Francisco and East Bay Municipal Utilities District both put MANDATORY water conservation ordinances into effect. The SCVWD Board balked at doing so, maybe because of groundwater reserves, but the stated reason was that we should not mandate people to restrict water use if they can be convinced to do it voluntarily.
All the Bay area media was filled with stories about people trying to reduce their water use to meet the mandates in neighboring counties. Most of our constituents probably assumed we had passed similar ordinances if the situation was that critical.
What had occurred was that, in 1976 our water consumption INCREASED 25% OVER THE PREVIOUS YEAR. This was a response to the fact that lack of rainfall was being compensated by increased landscape irrigation. In 1977, when the Bay Area media blitz began about rationing, water use in Santa Clara County, including the Hetch Hetchy users, reduced their water use by 25%. But this was the same 25% that had increased the previous year. But statistically, this looked great. SCVWD had achieved 25% “reduction” in water use without having to resort to mandatory rationing.
In 1979, the National Public Relations Society even gave the District an award for this achievement. As Chairman that year, I traveled to Houston with the PIO to receive this prestigious national award. Once there, I learned the meaning of Public Relations, as in the best major spin doctors in the country. My hometown of Niagara Falls, N.Y. was given a similar award at the same event for publishing a puffed-up industrial report about imminent job growth, which helped pass a bond issue to keep that city from defaulting on other outstanding bonds. I gather the PR award didn’t make it into the District’s trophy case.
One water recycling project did get launched in 1977, when Mr. Bonafonte convinced the City of Gilroy to build a pipeline from its sewage treatment ponds west to his tree farm (which is now the famous Gilroy Gardens. It was constructed with a $2 million Drought Emergency Loan from the Bureau of Reclamation, and repaid jointly by the City of Gilroy and the District. The drought ended the day we cut the ribbon on the new reclamation project. The event was almost rained out.
#11. A few paragraphs later, we would like the same director to make the following quote: “In the first two years, the drought’s impact was more intense in areas that had limited supply options,” said XX. “In the Santa Clara Valley, we had local supplies as well as imported water from the state and federal projects—we had more options.”
Pat Ferraro: Yes we did, including a pitifully small amount of water recycling occurring in the cities of Gilroy, Palo Alto & Santa Clara. It was mitigated greatly by the amount of water we purchased from the State Water Bank, at the cost of nearly $12 million.
#12. During the drought, the water district was forced to raise rates a few times. The most drastic increase came in May 1991, when the Board approved a hike of nearly 50 percent from the previous year (to $262 per acre-foot). To comment on this extraordinary increase, the following quote is suggested: “We deferred capital improvements in 1991, instituted a hiring freeze and dipped into our cash reserves in an effort to meet increased expenses,” explained XX. “But there was no skirting a substantial rate increase. The drought took us well beyond our normal operational costs.”
Pat Ferraro: “ took us well beyond our normal operational costs.” That part of the statement is the most significant, and to date is the best demonstration that the economics of buying water on the open market, actually is reflected 100% in increased operational costs, and is all in addition to the debt repayment for capital facilities, which are normally supposed to be filled with contract water to meet a service area’s demand.
This fact is almost always glossed over by proponents of water marketing for solving projected water shortages.
#13. Do any of you recall particular difficulty in explaining the rate increase to your constituents?
Pat Ferraro: This action resulted the hardest political flak I ever dealt with up to that date. We were still in mandatory drought mode, so we were seen as charging more and getting less for what everyone was finally beginning to understand was the cornerstone of their lives. The only time it got worse was when the San Jose Water Company, as the retailer for most of the valley cancelled the conservation banks folks had built up by using less than their monthly allocations. Then the public really felt ripped off and betrayed by, what they now perceived as, a bunch of greedy little piggies.
#14. Please consider the suggested quote indicated in red: One of the most compelling side effects of the drought, however, was the lesson Californians learned about the vulnerability of their water supply. As stated by board director XX, “The drought instilled an appreciation for this life-giving commodity.”
Pat Ferraro: I agree. I just said that in the question above.
Chapter 12: The Pursuit of High Quality Drinking Water
#15. In the late 1980s, the Board heartily supported water quality investigative efforts, including the Disinfection Byproduct (DBP) Action Plan with Alameda County and the pilot treatment plant at Vasona. Any comment on the expenditure, both at the time and in hindsight? How did the Board feel about being at the fore, statewide, in these investigations?
Pat Ferraro: After investing so heavily in infrastructure to import Delta water through two aqueducts, the District had no choice but address the public health issues that were quickly incriminating DBP’s as the probably cause for statistically higher incidence of birth defects and miscarriages in the Valley. The chloramination solution was fortunately successful enough to keep EPA and DOHS from shutting down our surface treatment plants as potable water supplies. This was suppose to be an interim measure, which is only now, finally being replaced by the use of ozone instead of chlorine as our primary disinfection agent
#16. What is the Board’s thinking on the Treated Water Improvement Project, the most expensive capital project in water district history? What will it mean immediately? What will it mean in the long term?
Pat Ferraro: The water should be safer to drink than it was when we used so much chlorine. In the long run, our energy demands for water treatment will increase, and put more pressure on the District to finally begin using its power producing authority seriously. We’ll need to do much more than build photovoltaic arrays to shade the parking lots and micro turbines to run the Admin. Building.
#17. What is the Board’s view on TMDLs? How influential is the Board realistically able to be regarding the processes of formulating state and national water quality policy?
Pat Ferraro: This is an issue that the Silicon Valley Pollution Prevention Center has in its work plan to address for the District’s sake as well as all holders of NPDES permits under the Clean Water Act. The concept of a TMDL attributes way too much ability to science, but the process helps identifies sources and then gives dischargers the ability to prevent pollution based on the precautionary principle. If an agency does not want to reduce or prevent pollution, the TMDL can be a very lengthy and costly approach to delaying any action concerning a specific pollutant.
#18. The Board was very vocal leading up to Gov. Davis’ ban of MTBE. Any hindsight on that?
Pat Ferraro: The biggest problem was not in Sacramento, but in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco at USEPA Region 9 headquarters. The Clinton administration was so focused on the Clean Air Act and the failure of the San Francisco airshed to meet standards, water quality concerns about MTBE were simply ignored and even vilified, including personal attacks on one of our directors for “being childish” in his zealotry to ban MTBE.
#19. What insight can you give us regarding the Board’s view of the water district’s response to the current perchlorate problem? Fast enough? Thorough enough? Are there laws and ordinances that need to change—or corporate culture that needs to change?
Pat Ferraro: Perchlorate represents a classic pollution prevention issue that goes all the way to land use decision-makers for its implementation. The District needs to be much stronger in its advocacy concerning the use of, or manufacturing of, chemicals in our watersheds, especially lands capable of contaminating the groundwater basins.
We saw how much adverse potential exists for contamination from industrial facilities during the debacle of the Leaking Underground Storage Tanks (LUST) in the 1980’s. We began formulating tools like a pilot GIS project in Campbell, which showed us dozens of industrial toxic storage tanks concentrated around our percolation system along Los Gatos Creek. We sat by while San Jose and Santa Clara County approved a new landfill in the foothills adjacent to the Coyote Valley, where the largest particles of alluvium provide natural recharge for the Santa Clara groundwater basin. The District did not object when the County issued a use permit to UTC for testing rocket motors within 1000 feet of Andersen Reservoir. (The connection between this land use decision and the siting of Olin plant in Morgan Hill is still being ignored, probably cloaked under national security issues. One Titan Rocket test is probably equivalent to burning a million or more road flares.)
Chapter 13: The Financing and Politics of Flood Protection
#20. We lead into this chapter with the statement in italics, and following it we suggest a quote, perhaps from one of the longstanding term-holders on the board: During the 1980s and 1990s, three forces determined the water district’s success in moving a flood management project from concept to construction: 1) finding the funds, 2) meeting regulatory requirements, and 3) achieving consensus among project stakeholders. Each of these forces was complicated enough to stop a project in its tracks. Together, the challenges they presented were, at times, daunting—such that board director XX stated in 19XX, “It’s a wonder any flood management project was ever built.”
Pat Ferraro: It’s a wonder the District waited 75 years for the cities to finally require creek setbacks in their General Plans, and for the District to support the State/Regional Water Boards in requiring onsite detention to mitigate the increased flows from hardening the watersheds. If both these requirements had occurred 50-60 years ago, the job of flood management would have not been such a shock when environmental regulations kicked in during the last couple decades.
#21. The drawback of the subvention program since 1990 is that local sponsors must come up with the funds, and are then reimbursed—but only when funds are available. Without reliable subvention program money, local sponsors have to find a replacement for those dollars. Would any director like to expand on the problem of this unstable funding source? What has been the board’s position on the subvention program—do you favor any legislative reforms?
Pat Ferraro: Many State legislators I’ve talked to believe the state should completely abandon the subvention program for federally qualifying flood “control” projects. This system has made the District into a something like a “welfare” recipient that does not ever get motivated to solve its own problems, and instead, play seemingly eternal games with the US Corps of Engineers to get a qualified project approved, which then can qualify for State subvention funds for rights of way and utility relocation costs. Many of the projects now under construction could have been built decades ago with local dollars at a small fraction of today’s costs, and with far less impact on the built and natural environment. But we were “hooked” into a system that could study projects forever. It took Congressman Mineta, as chair of the House Public Works Committee, to threaten to zero out the COE’s budget unless they began construction of the Guadalupe Flood Control project in 1994, after studying it for 50 years!
#22. A key ingredient the water district has brought to flood management is an expert staff. According to board director XX, “The Santa Clara Valley Water District has been comparatively successful because we have a staff with a high level of technical expertise. We have learned the complicated rules and regulations and spend a good deal of time keeping up with them. We maintain relationships with our Congressional delegates and we have the benefit of successful local funding programs. Consequently, we have the resources to negotiate, to advance money, and to understand the intricacies of how projects work.”
Pat Ferraro: No comment
Flood Project Boom
#23. During the 1980s and 1990s, Santa Clara County received an enormous influx of federal dollars for flood control work. How did the area attain the political clout to leverage federal money? What changed from previous decades that enabled the district to obtain the funds?
Pat Ferraro: See the last line of answer to Question #21.
Clean, Safe Creeks & Natural Flood Protection
#24. In November 2000, voters approved a special parcel tax for clean, safe creeks and natural flood protection. The measure will generate approximately $25 million per year less than revenue generated under the previous benefit assessment program. The new plan employs a countywide funding system rather than zone-by-zone funding. How effective do you think the new program will be? Do you have concerns about the $25 million revenue difference? What problems would the valley have faced if this measure had not passed?
Pat Ferraro: The passage of this parcel tax was a loud and clear statement from the people in this county that they want their creeks to be natural and clean; not full of trash & oil, and not lined with concrete. As we continue to urbanize and densify the core areas of our cities, people need to experience nature in a nearby setting, which the riparian corridors can provide.
Building trails that are compatible with protecting fish and wildlife habitat will continue to be the main challenge as the District tries to meet it’s flood protection mission within this narrow strip of land. An essential element for achieving that mission will be implementation of the onsite detention requirements placed on the land use agencies through the Urban Runoff NPDES permits.
The $25 million per year revenue is still insufficient to re-purchase all the encroachment that has already occurred on the riparian corridors. The District should try its best to use the local money to leverage State Bond funds, like Prop 50, designated for watershed restoration.
Chapter 14: The Major Flood Protection Projects
#25. It wasn’t until the 1980s, when the county emerged as Silicon Valley that the area wielded the political clout to leverage federal funding for flood work. But even when funds began to flow to the county in the 1980s, construction on several key projects, such as the Guadalupe River and Coyote Creek flood control projects, would not commence until the 1990s, and floods continued to take their toll. From the board’s viewpoint, how frustrating was it to be involved in such lengthy projects, and to be tied to a “federal purse” that came with strings attached. What kind of explanations did you attempt to offer your constituents on why flooding continued to happen?
Pat Ferraro: See the answer to Question #21.
#26. By 1986, through an innovative design, normal flows on the Barron and Matadero creeks would continue to pass through neighborhoods, but higher flows would be diverted downstream. The bypass, though expensive, met the community requirement of being unobtrusive while effectively handling the flood problem. Do any of you have particular comments on the bypass? When FEMA was requested to remove about 200 homes from the Barron Park floodplain, hydrological errors in making calculations were discovered. What kind of public relations problems did you have as a board in responding to this difficult situation?
Pat Ferraro: No comment
Alviso and Coyote Creek FCP
#27. In the winter of 1982-1983, Alviso experienced the double whammy of high tides from nearby San Francisco Bay and heavy rains that inundated some areas up to ten feet. Boats were employed to save some of the residents. In the aftermath, sparks flew in community meetings because the citizens of Alviso did not always agree with how the city of San Jose was prioritizing their needs. The political heat resulted in far-ranging support for flood management improvements. Could you comment on the plight of Alviso residents and how the water district worked to resolve the problem?
Pat Ferraro: The plight of Alviso was brought about by all the water pumpers that overdrafted the basin and caused valley floor to subside. But the resulting increased risk of floods and actual damages to Alviso residents have never been addressed through that root cause. San Jose can only help in some ways, but the area will remain below sea level, unless we, as a community, were willing to raise the entire area, like we did to the South Bay Yacht Club. Nature is doing the refilling itself, as she deposits sediment between the Guadalupe River levees in the lower reaches that are below sea level. We could keep moving the levees laterally across the area so nature could eventually restore all the land back to sea level. But this is such a long-term project, no politician would ever support it. In the mean time, global warming is melting the ice caps and flooding in Alviso could get worse before it gets better.
#28. The floods of 1997 and 1998 damaged residences in upper Llagas Creek; most of the affected homes would have been safe if funds had been available to complete the project as originally scheduled. After the flood of 1997, over 100 residents attended a meeting where they expressed frustration with the project’s incomplete status. Part of the problem was the lack of funds from PL-566 for the Llagas Creek FCP. Could you comment on either the public meeting or PL-566 becoming a poor source of funds for the Llagas Creek Flood Protection Project?
Pat Ferraro: The saddest thing about the PL566 Project on Llagas Creek was that the District capitulated with short-term thinking of adjacent farmers who refused to support the project if creekside trails were included as part of the project. As these farmers sell their land and subdivisions build homes and businesses adjacent to the creek, the trails that are being so sought after in North County, will not be easily attainable along Llagas Creek, without some prior designation for that use of the corridor.
County leads in flood work
#29. Between 1981 and the early 2000s, the water district completed more than $100 million worth of work in flood management projects—more than any other local flood management agency in California. Is there a board member who would like to express some sentiments about this achievement, what it meant for the ability of the greater San Jose area to expand and prosper by being able to build in floodplains—perhaps how Silicon Valley might have had to locate elsewhere if the infrastructure to protect from flooding was not in place?
Pat Ferraro: “expand and prosper by being able to build in floodplains” Are you sure you want to say this?
Chapter 15: Embracing Environmental Stewardship
Adoption of environmental stewardship as a mission
#30. In 2001 (verifying date), the board officially added a third aspect to its mission statement: environmental stewardship. Briefly, what was the collective thinking behind this bold action? Why was it necessary to make it an official component of the district’s mission, as opposed to just incorporating environmental considerations into the district’s programs?
Pat Ferraro: The Board retained the right to approve any “environmental enhancements” This keeps the staff from having a full responsibility for stewardship, when restoration is the issue. The Board usually adopts what the staff recommends, if the funds are available. Will the staff exert itself enough to find those funds so that the Board will approve those enhancements?
Fish and Aquatic Habitat Collaborative Effort (FAHCE)
#31. With the Fish and Aquatic Habitat Collaborative Effort, the water district makes clear that its taking a responsible role for making operational changes to support the rebound of salmonid populations on local streams. Any comments on this project?
Pat Ferraro: That’s a good thing.
#32. In Norris Hundley’s book, “The Great Thirst,” he describes California early days under Spanish rule as a time when water use decisions were made for the common good. From the time of the gold rush onward, he describes the state’s political landscape as one that evolved to a collection of interests, every stakeholder angling for their own good, rather than for the common good. Could Calfed, or even projects such as FAHCE, be examples of collaborative efforts where the common good—including the good of the environment—is once again considered?
Pat Ferraro: The Environmental “Movement”, like the Conservation Movement of President Teddy Roosevelt, is the closest thing America has today to a socialist program. But don’t say it too loudly, because there are folks already in power that want to undue all that’s been accomplished in the last 30 years.
Chapter 16: Toward 2020
#33. In March 1996, the district launched the Integrated Water Resources Plan (IWRP). With the involvement of stakeholders and the general public, a preferred strategy for meeting future water supply needs was identified; in December 1997, the district board unanimously accepted the preferred strategy recommended in the report. Could you express the board’s enthusiasm for the IWRP process and the resulting preferred strategy? Does this quote capture your sentiments: “Involving public members in analyzing the supply alternatives helped to articulate the human values on which we base our policy decisions—the selected strategy must respond to community concerns in order to succeed. It’s a very democratic process,” stated board director XX.
Pat Ferraro: That’s a fair statement, but if it was not for that public process, the IWRP, left to the District engineers would have been all about dams and imported water projects. Six years later, it seems to be heading back there. See answer to question # 3
#34. California is by the far the nation’s most populous state and will continue to grow. Does the board have a collective philosophical position on whether land use patterns and water allocations should be more controlled or reformed in light of the state’s tapped-out water sources?
Pat Ferraro: We need to get closer and closer to our land use decision makers. The District has a Water Commission made up of land use decision makers. We somehow need to get those member agencies represented at every Board meeting so that we move forward with our land use decisions in harmony with the water environment, so that this essential resource is protected and used in a sustainable manner for all generations into the future
#35. To quote one attorney, “First in time, first in right is not a sound approach to water management any more. It was a fine system in 1850. It’s a ridiculous approach in 2000. It actively promotes inefficiency and waste.” Would SCVWD benefit from any specific reform of the state’s water rights laws? Do you foresee this as an increasingly important issue in the future?
Pat Ferraro: Good luck changing it. It will launch the equivalent of a civil war, using all the attorneys ag money can buy.
#36. If you could leave your constituency with a few succinct thoughts on water issues in respect to what we have achieved and where we need to go, what would those thoughts be?
Pat Ferraro: Let us manage our water as part of the natural cycle, rather than as a commodity. Let each of us always act as we are a part of nature, and not simply use water for our personal short-lived benefit.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR PARTICIPATION
IN THIS HISTORICAL ACCOUNT!
Pat's Final Comment: What grade would you give if this was an assignment for a history or environmental studies or social studies or public administrative class?