July 30, 2014

Water districts act to protect Redwood City wetlands

Photo by Cynthia Denny

Photo by Cynthia Denny

Update April 19, 2012: a recent KPFA broadcast gives more information about South Bay wetlands; it is available at http://www.kpfa.org/archive/id/79421.

Two local water districts have said ‘no’ to the Saltworks development project. Their stand may save the last large chunk of privately owned restorable wetlands on San Francisco Bay.

Cargill owns 1,400 acres of former salt ponds in Redwood City (just south and east of the intersection of Woodside Road and Highway 101), where it plans to partner with DMB Associates to build Saltworks, a city of 30,000 people, 12,000 houses, and one million square feet of retail space (see May-June Yodeler, page 7).

These lands should not be developed. Even in their current unrestored state they provide winter habitat for thousands of shorebirds. The project would dump a city’s worth of additional traffic on already gridlocked roads. Due to rising sea levels, the area is expected to be under water within 40 years. But the problem that may decisively halt development is fresh water: there isn’t enough to go around.

Redwood City purchases all of its water from the San Francisco Public Utility Commission. This supply is not expandable. Even without further growth, in the event of a drought Redwood City might have to cut back current water users by as much as 27%.

Under state law, the developer of any project with more than 500 homes is required to prove adequate water supplies. The first plan of the Saltworks developers was to use groundwater from the site–but this turned out to be non-potable saltwater. In 2009 DMB purchased the rights to 8,400 acre feet of water per year from a Bakersfield farming operation, Nickel Family LLC. At current Redwood City consumption rates, this would be enough water for an additional 50,000 residents. But the water rights purchased by DMB are a claim on the State Water Project, and there’s no direct connection from that agency to Redwood City. To use the purchased water, DMB has to find a water agency with connections to both the State Water Project and the SFPUC, and persuade that agency to accept state water in exchange for allowing some of its SFPUC water to go to Saltworks. (The state water, coming from the Delta, is substantially lower in quality than the SFPUC water, which comes directly from the Sierra Nevada.) The only two agencies that could perform this swap are the Alameda County Water District, serving Fremont, Newark, and Union City; or the Santa Clara Valley Water District, serving Santa Clara County. On Aug. 22 both districts declined to participate.

“Alameda County Water District is not participating and has no intention of participating in providing a water supply for the DMB-Cargill project,” said Walt Wadlow, general manager of the District, as quoted by the Mercury-News. “Numerous environmental issues have been raised with regard to this project, and we have no interest in contributing to the ongoing controversy.”

DMB is now studying desalination and use of recycled water. It says that it won’t release its new water plan until later this year, when it submits a revised description of its whole project.

Charlotte Allen, Executive Committee, Sierra Club Southern Alameda County Group

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