Santa Clara Valley Water District approves $650M to fund controversial 'WaterFix' project

On Tuesday, the Santa Clara Valley Water District approved $650 million to help fund Governor Jerry Brown’s controversial “WaterFix” project.

The water district said if the governor’s tunnels project moves forward, water users could see a $10 increase per month per household, yet it still faces many hurdles.

In a bold move, the water district board voted 4-3 to support the governor’s ambitious plan allocating $650 million to the $17 billion project. The district said the upgrade would secure a stable supply of water for the future. Forty percent of the county’s water comes from the delta. 

“Increasingly, it has become difficult to continue to import water out of the delta, the more water we take out the, the tougher it gets,” said Santa Clara Valley Water District Board Member Tony Estremera.

The project calls for two giant tunnels, 35 miles long, to be built under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Valley Delta.. The tunnels would divert water from the Sacramento River and direct it southward.

In a statement Governor Jerry Brown said, “Simply put, this courageous decision will help 2 million Santa Clarans have a more reliable water source.”

“We haven't invested in water infrastructure in this way in over 50 years,” said Mike Mielke of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. 

Supporters said the county needs all the water it can get given the region's growing population and climate change.

“In an age where we are dealing with climate change, long range drought forecasts are predicting the region is going to be even more strapped for water in the future years,” said Mielke. 

Funding the project will ensure the district will have a say on how the tunnels are built, yet opponents foresee cost overruns.

“It’s really a 20th century solution to 21st Century problems,” said Osha Merserve.

Meserve is an attorney with LAND or Local Agencies of the North Delta, one of many groups filing a lawsuit against the project. She said, the governor's plan will sacrifice the health of fish and wildlife and could worsen water quality for communities around the north delta.  

“It’s some kind of legacy project to him because it certainly doesn't make sense from a practical perspective about how to spend our money moving forward in the 21st century,” said Meserve. 

The Santa Clara Valley Water District said there's no other viable alternative plan. The project is currently facing 30 lawsuits. The hope is to break ground in 10 to 15 years but given permitting and legal issues it could take a lot longer.