12,000 Homes Planned for Bay have no Water, actually
Water agency leaders oppose deal for proposed Cargill Redwood City development
An Arizona company's plan to build the largest housing development on the shores of San Francisco Bay since the birth of Foster City more than 50 years ago is hitting a potentially significant new hurdle: lack of water.
DMB Associates of Scottsdale, Ariz., has proposed to build 12,000 homes in Redwood City east of Highway 101 on vacant lands once used by Cargill Salt.
On Tuesday, however, leaders at two prominent Silicon Valley water districts said they are opposed to helping the project acquire water through a complex transfer involving farming interests near Bakersfield.
"I'm not going to support something like that," said Don Gage, chairman of the Santa Clara Valley Water District's board. "It entangles you in a situation where you don't want to be. It doesn't do any good for the water district to be put in that position."
Similarly, Walt Wadlow, general manager of the Alameda County Water District, said his agency isn't interested in partnering with DMB to shift the Bakersfield water through its system to Redwood City.
"Alameda County Water District is not participating and has no intention of participating in providing a water supply for the DMB-Cargill Project," Wadlow said. "Numerous environmental issues have been raised with regard to this project and we have no interest in contributing to the ongoing controversy."
Environmentalists called the news a major setback. They have raised concerns about traffic, sea level
rise, and other issues, and say they want the whole property converted back to wetlands for fish and wildlife.
"This is very significant," said David Lewis, executive director of Save the Bay. "I don't know which of the problems will be a fatal hit, but the project should have been dead on arrival when it was first proposed. This is just one of the reasons."
On Tuesday, David Smith, a vice president of DMB, said the news that leaders of the two agencies were rejecting the plan doesn't mean the transfer is dead or the project is in jeopardy because DMB has not made a formal proposal to either one yet.
"No request has been made," he said. "We would hope that when a request is made to any agency or any individual who has a say in it that they would receive the totality of the proposal and consider it on its merits."
Smith said DMB is studying desalination, use of recycled water and tapping groundwater around Redwood City, along with the transfer idea. The project's exact water plan won't come out until next year, he said, when the environmental impact report is under way.
The water dilemma is simple.
The Redwood City site is roughly 1,400 acres of mostly salt-encrusted lands that Cargill used for decades as crystallizer beds for making salt for roads, food and medicine. Sitting adjacent to the bay, the property does not have sufficient water for a new community of 25,000 people, and state law requires developers of more than 500 housing units to identify a water source before starting construction.
When it first proposed the project, DMB said it would try to use groundwater from the site. But in 2009, the company purchased 8,400 acre feet of water a year from Nickel Family LLC, a Bakersfield farming operation. DMB bought the rights to that water -- 2.7 billion gallons a year -- for 70 years.
The trouble is, there's no way to move the water 230 miles north from Bakersfield to Redwood City.
To do that would involve a complex transfer that in all probability only two water agencies in the Bay Area could broker: the Santa Clara Valley Water District and the Alameda County Water District.
Under the most likely scenario, DMB would pay one of the districts. That district would then take water from the delta that would have otherwise gone to the Bakersfield farming family, moving it through the State Water Project and Bay Area pipelines and aqueducts to Silicon Valley.
To finally get the water to Redwood City would involve another deal using the Hetch Hetchy water system, which serves Redwood City, San Francisco, the Peninsula and parts of the East Bay. In short, the Alameda County Water District would keep the delta water and allow some of its water from the Hetch Hetchy system to go to Redwood City. The Santa Clara Valley Water District also could have one of its customers, like the cities of Palo Alto, Sunnyvale or Mountain View, that receives Hetch Hetchy water give up some of that water to Redwood City, on the condition it would be replenished by the Santa Clara Valley Water District.
But if the Santa Clara Valley Water District and Alameda County Water District don't participate, that sharply limits, if not kills, the transfer plan. That's because both control vast networks of pipes needed to move water around the South Bay and both are contractors of the State Water Project, which allows them to buy water from the delta.
"We're looking at every possibility out there," Smith said. "We are turning over every stone and exploring every avenue."
Saturday, Aug 27 2011 11:01 PM
This week, leaders of the Santa Clara Valley and Alameda County water districts said they had no interest in helping the developer of a huge, controversial Redwood City project, DMBAssociates of Arizona, acquire water for 12,000 new homes from Bakersfield-based Nickel Family LLC. The water districts' opposition casts fresh doubt on the viability of the project and the prospect of the water transfer, since their cooperation is integral to the deal.
California law requires developments with more than 500 homes to secure water supplies before proceeding with construction. The Nickel Family has agreed to sell the needed water to DMB, but the arrangement would involve a complicated system of water transfers that would likely require either the Alameda or Santa Clara water district to act as a middle&discHyphen;man in the deal.
By urbanizing an area that is probably best suited to wetlands, the project would create new congestion issues for the 11th-largest metropolitan area in the nation. Potential sea-level rise is another concern, given the low elevation of the proposed mega-development.
The arrangement raises a different set of concerns on this end: Namely, the implications of transferring water that has traditionally been the lifeblood of Central Valley farms -- and Central Valley economics -- to new, distant homes, especially on the heels of a drought that brought the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta to its knees.
The irony of transferring 2.7 billion gallons of Kern County water per year for 70 years to Northern California, even as the state wrestles with the funding and logistics of a water conveyance system to benefit the parched south, is hard to miss.
The sale is perfectly legal, based on our arcane system of water rights. Its logic, from a broader perspective, is another matter entirely.