SAN JOSE—The Santa Clara Valley Water District has filed a lawsuit to challenge the state’s plan to reduce water flows on the San Joaquin River and its tributaries – a move that could significantly impact the water supply to Santa Clara County. The water district also challenged the environmental review of the state’s plan because it did not take into account the impacts of the plan on Santa Clara County’s groundwater.
The State Water Resources Control Board voted in December to mandate an increase to the amount of water that flows through the San Joaquin River and its tributaries, in order to assist endangered and threatened fish species in the Delta. However, to increase the flow in the river and its tributaries, the flow to other water users must decrease. Specifically, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission will see a significant reduction, which, apart from its supply to San Francisco and other Bay Area cities, will affect the SFPUC’s customers in Santa Clara County. The county relies on the SFPUC for 15 percent of its water supply, and a decrease in water from the SFPUC means greater reliance on the water district, especially during droughts. This can create a strain on the groundwater supplies that the water district manages.
The groundwater aquifers in Santa Clara County hold more water than all 10 of the water district’s surface water reservoirs combined and form a crucial part of the county’s water supply picture. Their importance increases, particularly during droughts. The state’s plan could impact these aquifers and substantially affect the water district’s ability to meet water supply needs during dry years.
“The Santa Clara Valley Water District is an agency that places a great deal of importance on the environment, and we respect the state’s efforts over the last few years to address the issue of fish decline,” said water district board chair Linda J. LeZotte. “But the board would like to find a better balance and believes that there are other, more effective solutions that focus on the fishes’ distinct problems – native fish being preyed on by nonnative fish, lack of habitat, insufficient food supply for the fish, contaminants, and water temperatures that get too high for fish to survive. We hope the courts can help us all arrive at a balanced decision that benefits the Delta and doesn’t leave Silicon Valley high and dry.”
The suit filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court asks the court to determine whether the state has taken proper action to require increased flows for fish and wildlife in the San Joaquin, Tuolumne, Stanislaus and Merced rivers. While the complaint moves through the courts, the water district will continue to negotiate with state officials and other agencies to address our interests, especially retaining sufficient water supply during droughts and supporting effective measures to sustain healthy native fish populations in the Delta and its tributaries.