SAN JOSE — The Santa Clara County Superior Court ruled on May 18th that the Santa Clara Valley Water District (Valley Water), the agency pushing for construction of the controversial new $2.9 billion Pacheco Dam project, violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by relying on inapplicable exemptions to avoid proper environmental review.
“The court's decision mandates that Valley Water now perform proper environmental review of the project’s impacts before proceeding further with the extensive field investigations,” according to a press release from the Stop Pacheco Dam Coalition.
The coalition filed the CEQA petition in June 2022, which was later amended to include the Amah Mutson Tribal Band and Sierra Club. The Stop Pacheco Dam Coalition works to protect the unique biological, cultural and other resources of the Diablo Range, and Santa Clara County ratepayers.
The Coalition believes the massive new Pacheco Dam would put Santa Clara ratepayers at severe financial risk, because of its massive cost, uncertain schedule, and ultimately limited additional water supply, all without solving Silicon Valley’s priority water challenges.
“The lawsuit challenged Valley Water’s decision to avoid environmental review under CEQA for its extensive investigatory activities, including boring hundreds of separate holes, dozens of which would use helicopters to deliver necessary equipment, and digging dozens of test pits in an environmentally sensitive area that is rich in biodiversity and cultural resources,” the coalition stated.
“Under CEQA, a lead agency must either conduct an environmental review or may determine that a project is exempt from review. Here, Valley Water wrongly chose to forego any environmental review for the extensive geotechnical investigations associated with the new dam project,” the coalition continued.
The court found that Valley Water's reliance on exemptions for these extensive geotechnical activities, which would take place over the course of two years, violated CEQA. Specifically, Valley Water used the Class 4 exemption for "minor alterations to land" and the Class 6 exemption for "information collection" to cover the project. However, the court determined that the project exceeded the statutory limits of both exemptions.
"This court ruling is a significant victory for environmental and cultural resources protection and accountability, and shows that Valley Water cannot be trusted to correctly review and mitigate the impacts of this destructive new dam project,” said Osha Meserve, the Coalition’s attorney. “This project is not worthy of public funding, whether it be from the California Proposition 1 Water Bond or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency WIFIA program.”
“The Sierra Club remains dedicated to promoting the responsible use of the earth’s resources and to educate and encourage people to respect those resources. That includes Valley Water,” said Katja Irvin. “We are pleased to see the court agreeing that this project, including the extensive and potentially harmful geotechnical investigations, requires serious environmental review.”
“We are gratified that the court appreciates the seriousness of the proposed land disturbances and is requiring proper environmental review,” said Valentin Lopez, chairman of the Amah Mutsun Land Trust. “Our tribe seeks to prevent the irreparable destructive impacts of the dam project and these investigation efforts, which would harm cultural, sacred and ceremonial sites that are documented in the area.”
As a result of Valley Water’s deficient CEQA process, the court granted the Coalition a Petition for Writ of Mandate, requiring Valley Water to conduct a thorough environmental review before conducting more investigations in furtherance of the Pacheco Dam project.
To read the Court’s ruling, click HERE.