$2.5 billion Pacheco Dam project moves forward, despite cost increase

Leaders of the largest water district in Silicon Valley decided Tuesday to move forward with a plan to build a $2.5 billion dam near Pacheco Pass in Southern Santa Clara County — in what would be the largest new reservoir in the Bay Area in 20 years — despite learning that the cost has doubled due to unstable geology on the site.

Although several board members of the Santa Clara Valley Water District expressed concerns during their meeting about the growing price tag, others said the proposed project’s water storage is needed for the future, and that the agency should continue ahead with studies and public meetings.

“This represents a very important part of the water supply system for the future,” said board member John Varela, who represents Gilroy and Morgan Hill, adding “All of us should work toward completing this project, as long as it takes and how much it ever costs.”

The project, proposed by the Santa Clara Valley Water District, a government agency based in San Jose, calls for a 319-foot-high dam to be built along Pacheco Creek in the rural canyons just north of Highway 152 near Henry W. Coe State Park. For the past three years, the district has considered the dam to be a key part of the future water plans for 2 million people in the South Bay.

But studies by a contractor earlier this year found the area has unstable rock. About 130 test borings found that crews would have to dig down at least 30 feet deeper to hit bedrock than previously thought. That will add three years to construction — from five to eight years — and add least $1 billion or more in additional costs, water district engineers estimate, sending the price tag soaring from $1.3 billion to $2.5 billion.

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Critics of the plan say that the price tag will make it difficult to find other Bay Area water agencies to partner with, and will raise water rates for Santa Clara County residents.

“There are a lot of alternative ways we can get this water which would be less expensive, especially with this extreme cost escalation,” said Katja Irvin, co-chair of the conservation committee for the Sierra Club’s Loma Prieta chapter. ”

She urged the board to pull the plug on the plan and instead expand conservation like boosting spending on rebates to pay people to remove lawns and install high-efficiency dishwashers, toilets and other appliances, and also to expand the use of recycled water. The Pacheco project, with the cost increases and geologic issues, she said, faces the same fate as many other dams proposed over the years in California in difficult locations whose costs grew so high that the water’s price became impractical.

“It’s going to die of its own weight eventually,” she said. “Hopefully sooner rather than later.”

The project, if it is ever built, would construct a reservoir that holds 140,000 acre feet of water — nearly as much as all 10 existing dams the water district currently operates. It would be the largest …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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