A multi-million-dollar project to protect Pajaro Valley groundwater from seawater intrusion will break ground Friday after decades of discussion and planning.
When complete, the College Lake Water Supply Project will consist of a new pump station, a water treatment plant and a 6-mile, 30-inch pipeline.
It will deliver water from a seasonal lake northeast of Watsonville to 5,500 acres of coastal farmland in Monterey and Santa Cruz counties.
“The College Lake Project is essential for us to reach sustainability in the Pajaro Valley,” said Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency spokesperson Marcus Mendiola. “We need to diversify further from being so groundwater dependent in Pajaro Valley.”
“This is a project that’s been talked about since as long as I’ve been alive,” Mendiola said.
For more than a century, a local reclamation district has pumped water from the lake, which is filled by rainwater and surface water runoff, and piped it into the Pacific Ocean to clear the land for farming.
The plan now is to capture that water, treat it for agriculture use, and, in the spring and summer, send it to farms that have been drawing from the local aquifer via wells, some of which have become so salty that they are no longer useful.
“This is a win-win-win project — it’s taking care of the environment, taking care of the groundwater basin and taking care of the agricultural economic engine that’s been going on in the Pajaro Valley for almost two centuries now,” Mendiola said.
Protecting groundwater and fish
When it’s up and running sometime around the end of 2024, the project will deliver roughly 1,800 to 2,300 acre feet of water per year.
The goal is to reduce the amount of water currently being pumped out of the groundwater basin, which has become so over drafted that the groundwater table has dropped below sea level, resulting in seawater intrusions, groundwater storage depletion and degraded water quality, according to a description of the project on Pajaro Valley Water’s website.
“This is a win-win-win project — it’s taking care of the environment, taking care of the groundwater basin and taking care of the agricultural economic engine that’s been going on in the Pajaro Valley for almost two centuries now.”Marcus Mendiola, Pajaro Valley Water Management Agency spokesperson
Construction plans also include a “fish passage structure” that will allow fish to move in and out of College Lake and help protect endangered steelhead, according to the project description.
The roughly $68 million project is being funded partly by grants, partly by Pajaro Valley Water reserve funds and partly by bonds that will be repaid by water-use rate increases.
Those rate increases will be borne by water users inside and outside of the project area since a restored, healthy groundwater basin will benefit the entire region, according to proponents. About 90 percent of all water used in the valley is drawn from the basin.
A groundbreaking event is scheduled for Friday at 10 a.m. at the construction site at 76 Holohan Road in Watsonville and is expected to include U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose, California Department of Water Resources and Valley Water officials.