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Water Rates Will Increase To Pay For Delta Tunnels


How would you like to find out that a new fee was added to your groundwater bill to support Governor Jerry Brown’s “legacy” project,” the salmon-killing Delta Tunnels, without your consent?  


Well, that’s exactly what happened when ratepayers attended a public hearing of Santa Clara County Water Commission’s Board of Directors in Gilroy on April 14 to find out that their hard-earned money would go to support the California WaterFix, the state and federal government’s name for the Delta Tunnels, according to a news release from Restore the Delta (RTD).

The Commission held the hearing regarding their “Annual Report on the Protection and Augmentation of Water Supplies - February 2016 and Recommended Groundwater Production and Other Water Charges for Fiscal Year 2016-2017 (FY 2016-17).” The meeting agenda and details are available here.  

Several users of small private residential water systems at the Gilroy hearing “complained bitterly” about the cost of the current groundwater charges on top of the cost of pumping and maintenance of their wells, Restore the Delta noted.

“They were unanimous in stating that they could not afford the proposed increase for FY 2017. The groundwater charges are also paid by the cities and passed on to customers,” RTD stated.

“Well owners and residential customers will now be paying to support the Delta Tunnels through their water bills. No wonder people are upset,” explained Barbara Barrigan-Parrilla, executive director of Restore the Delta. “This rate increase will happen, without a vote, for a project without permits, for water they will never receive.”

Deirdre Des Jardins of California Water Research discovered the WaterFix charges when evaluating District documents. She found a significant discrepancy in the proposed WaterFix charges disclosed for Prop 218, and those presented to the Board and the County Water Commission.

"For the Board, the staff estimated the WaterFix could result in a maximum $229 per acre foot annual increase in water rates for the South County, vs. $38 estimated in the Prop 218 disclosure. For the North County, the staff estimated a maximum $316 annual increase, vs $75 in the Prop 218 disclosure,” according to Des Jardins.

Des Jardins noted that the WaterFix charges are in addition to increases in groundwater fees to pay for major local projects.

If the District’s CVP share of WaterFix costs are paid by groundwater fees, the District’s South County groundwater fees would almost triple by 2026. North County groundwater fees would almost quadruple, said Des Jardins.

The current residential groundwater fees in the South County are $356/acre-foot. The 2026 groundwater fees estimated in their rate-setting disclosure would be $604/acre-foot. With the higher WaterFix costs, the 2026 groundwater fees could be $795/acre-foot, Des Jardins estimated.


The current residential groundwater fees in the North County are $747/acre-foot. The 2026 groundwater fees estimated in their rate-setting disclosure would be $2332/acre-foot. With the higher Water Fix Costs, the 2026 groundwater fees could be $2648/acre-foot. 

”The financial slight-of-hand raises some serious questions,” said Barrigan-Parrilla. “This enormously expensive project was slipped into the District budget with little notice or review, and with ridiculously rosy cost estimates. Sooner or later ratepayers will get stuck with the bill.”

In a statement, the Santa Clara County Water District claimed that "Restore the Delta’s implication that California WaterFix would triple or quadruple groundwater fees is patently incorrect."

"As part of our annual process of presenting the proposed groundwater production charges to our rate payers, staff presents projections of all potential future costs. The cost projections include all costs that we reasonably expect could occur in future years. They do not constitute a 'new fee,' but rather a transparent projection of how rates could be impacted by various scenarios," the district stated.

For District's complete response to RTD's news release can be viewed here.  

In response to the District's statement, Barrigan-Parrilla said, "The Restore the Delta press release release is based on the data that was released to the public. Now they are saying it's wrong, but they are not releasing the additional data. They are not being transparent."

"However, the bigger question is: why does the District's Board continue to have ratepayers pay interim charges for the Delta Tunnels when the California WaterFix makes no new water?"

The Santa Clara Valley Water District Board will discuss the groundwater charges on April 26, at 6:00 pm. If ratepayers cannot attend the meeting, Barrigan-Parrilla recommends emailing objections to the SCVWD at valleywater.org.

Note: This article has updated figures for the District’s groundwater fees in the WaterFix High Cost Scenario

More information about the controversy erupting over the Santa Clara Valley Water Districts's groundwater charges can be viewed here

The Delta Tunnels Plan is based on the absurd concept that diverting more water from the Sacramento River will restore the Delta, the largest estuary on the West Coast of the Americas. Yet I’m not aware of one example in U.S. or world history where diverting more water from a river or estuary has ever restored the ecosystem of that river or estuary.

The tunnels would hasten the extinction of Sacramento winter-run Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead Delta and longfin smelt, green sturgeon and other fish species. The project would also imperil the salmon populations on the Trinity and Klamath rivers — and pose a big threat to the Yurok, Hoopa Valley and Karuk Tribes that depend on the salmon for their food, culture and ceremonies.

While the Delta Tunnels plan poses a huge threat to the ecosystems of the Sacramento, San Joaquin, Klamath and Trinity river systems, it’s not the only environmentally devastating policy promoted by Governor Jerry Brown. Brown is promoting the expansion of fracking and extreme oil extraction methods in California and is overseeing water policies that are driving winter run-Chinook salmon, Delta and longfin smelt and other species closer and closer to extinction.

Jerry Brown also oversaw the "completion" of so-called “marine protected areas” under the privately funded Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) Initiative, overseen by a Big Oil lobbyist and other corporate interests, in December 2012. These faux “Yosemites of the Sea” fail to protect the ocean from oil drilling, fracking, pollution, corporate aquaculture and all human impacts on the ocean other than sustainable fishing and gathering.

As if those examples of Brown’s tainted environmental legacy weren’t enough, Brown has promoted carbon trading and REDD policies that pose an enormous threat to Indigenous Peoples around the globe; has done nothing to stop clearcutting of forests by Sierra-Pacific and other timber companies; presided over record water exports from the Delta in 2011; and oversaw massive fish kills of Sacramento splittail and other species in 2011.

While Brown spouts "green" rhetoric when he flies off to climate conference and and issues proclamations about John Muir Dayand Earth Day, his actions and policies regarding fish, water and the environment are among the worst of any Governor in recent California history.

More information about the real environmental record of Governor Jerry Brown can be viewed here

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