Santa Clara voted on — something

The Santa Clara Valley Water District says it voted to support the California WaterFix today.

But did it? The Mercury News describes the vote as a rejection of the Fix, because Santa Clara’s board conditioned its approval on “considering an approach” that incorporates one tunnel instead of two tunnels.

The Sacramento Bee also describes the vote as a rejection of Brown’s plan, though not prominently in the headline as the Merc did.

This is getting parsed to death on social media, and is understandably causing tons of confusion. Bottom line: Santa Clara voted to support the WaterFix but with conditions that could dramatically change the project to the point where it is no longer the WaterFix.

At least, not as it has always been described — two tunnels capable of diverting 9,000 cubic feet per second of water from the Sacramento River. If you choose to define “WaterFix” more loosely, merely as some kind of isolated conveyance, then that’s a different story. But that’s not the WaterFix preferred alternative.

OK. Deep breath. The biggest problem seems to be with the wording of the resolution.

The conditions are described by Santa Clara as “guiding principles for participation,” and are most definitely locked in as part of the overall approval.

But principle No. 3 does appear to contain some wiggle room. Rather than explicitly requiring one tunnel instead of two, it says the district supports “considering an approach that incorporates… one tunnel instead of the two tunnels.”

The full language, because clearly it matters in this case:

“Given that Westlands Water District and certain other agriculture districts have declined to participate in the WaterFix project, we are supportive of a lower-cost, scaled-down and staged project that… is consistent with the existing environmental impact reports and other administrative proceedings. We support considering an approach that incorporates the following in the first stage of the project:

a) One tunnel instead of the two tunnels;

b) A reduced intake volume from the original 9,000 cubic feet per second;

c) A reduced number of intakes on the Sacramento River;

d) A project that incorporates and ensures less impacts on fisheries relative to current operations; and

e) Allows Santa Clara Valley Water District elected officials to be actively involved as leaders in the governance of the WaterFix project to ensure the project is implemented appropriately and to prevent any Southern California water grab.

Any changes to the project that diverge from this principle must be brought before the board before any final agreement is announced.”

Full disclosure: I wasn’t at Tuesday’s meeting and didn’t hear much of the debate. But here’s my take from the cheap seats.

This sure doesn’t sound like support for the WaterFix as it has always been defined. But there’s enough wiggle room in the language (that word “considering” again) that I’m not sure it’s an absolute rejection, either.

I would say that the board declined, for now, to endorse the project as originally proposed by the Brown administration.

Enough. It’s late. Let the parsing continue.

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    Alex Breitler

    A native of Benicia, he lives in Stockton with his wife, Ann, who forces him to go backpacking in the Sierra Nevada or Trinity Alps at every opportunity. He has been writing mostly about natural resources since 2003, first in Redding and now in ... Read Full
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