Published in the January 24 – February 6, 2018 issue of Gilroy Life

Guest column by John Varela

John Varela

Last year was memorable for Santa Clara County, especially for water resources management. It was the year that broke our state’s longest dry streak with record-setting precipitation. A year of transition between extremes — from drought to floods. A year for big decisions on the future of our water supply. And it was a year to redouble our commitment to preparing for wet and dry years to ensure safe, clean water. As board chair of the Santa Clara Valley Water District, I am proud to reflect on some of the 2017’s highlights.

An historic flood along Coyote Creek was a vivid reminder that flood risks persist in our county. Despite our investments of nearly $1 billion in flood protection projects over several decades protecting nearly 100,000 parcels, our work is far from complete. The Coyote Creek flood has ignited a new urgency in our fight to reduce risks and help keep communities safe.

Last year, we completed the Lower Silver Creek Flood Protection Project in east San Jose. The project extends about 4.4 miles from its connection at Coyote Creek to Cunningham Avenue. When the Lake Cunningham detention basin is completed it will protect about 3,800 homes and businesses. Flood protection projects are large, complex undertakings, requiring intense coordination with local, state, federal and regulatory agencies.

Anderson Reservoir overflowed during the winter of 2017. Gilroy Life photo file

After the Coyote Creek flood in February, my colleagues and I led advocacy efforts in Washington, D.C., to seek federal funding and support changes to the regulatory permitting process which has delayed many projects. At home, we took immediate action to build short-term flood barriers at the Rock Springs neighborhood, remove invasive vegetation along Coyote Creek, remove downed trees and potential creek blockages, and partnered with the city of San Jose to approve a Joint Emergency Action Plan which outlines a detailed strategy for preparing and responding to flood threats. The board also approved new operating parameters at Anderson and Coyote reservoirs to create more storage space, further reducing the chance of flooding.

In one of the most critical decisions of the year, the board voted to conditionally participate in the California WaterFix project to improve the infrastructure that carries water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Our board developed a list of seven guiding principles to work with state and water agency partners to examine a less costly, scaled-down and staged project that would serve Silicon Valley’s needs, as well as our partners.

To further improve reliability of our imported water supply sources, we applied for $484.5 million in state funding for the potential expansion of the Pacheco Reservoir. Located about 13 miles southwest of San Luis Reservoir near Highway 152, this project offers emergency and drought-year supply, fish habitat enhancement, flood protection and other benefits.

Another way we are preparing for the future is through expanding use of recycled water. We recently celebrated the completion of 2.5-mile recycled water pipeline along Wolfe Road in Sunnyvale. The project was also a shining example of how Silicon Valley businesses and local governments can successfully invest in our region’s water infrastructure, paving the way for future collaborations.

No doubt about it, 2017 was a forward-moving year. I wouldn’t expect anything less for Silicon Valley. And I am humbled to have the honor to lead the efforts in 2018. Follow more of what we accomplished throughout the year in our annual report available on

John Varela is the chairman of the Santa Clara Valley Water District Board of Directors, representing District 1, which includes Morgan Hill, San Martin and Gilroy For more information, email

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