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South Bay Water Agency Proposes Storing Water Beneath Ranch in Central Valley

SANTA CLARA COUNT (KPIX 5) -- The South Bay's biggest water district is considering buying a sprawling cattle ranch 100 miles away in the San Joaquin Valley.

The 4-S ranch could be used to store water for the Santa Clara Valley to use in a drought.

"It's essentially the drain in a bath tub," said Steve Sloan, who owns the 5,300 acre ranch near Atwater. Numerous creeks, sloughs and flood channels cross-cross the ranch, making it one of the most water wealthy spots in California.

"Everything drains down to this point," explained Sloan.

But Sloan says the ranch is under utilized as a water resource. Even in wet years like this, he says his studies show there are huge capacities
for water storage underground.

"There's still a quarter of a million acre feet of room down there," Sloan said.

That would be about an eighth of the massive San Luis Reservoir, and why the Santa Clara Valley Water District is interested in his property.

The District confirmed the idea of buying the property was a closed session discussion item last week, and that no further board action is scheduled.

But the idea of an outside urban area getting its hands on a water resource in the San Joaquin Valley is making other farmers nervous.

"A lot of people are skeptical that the water is going to come from outside sources," said Gino Pedretti, a cotton grower and the President of the Merced Farm Bureau. "We're worried if they start bidding on surface water around here. It's going to have an adverse affect on ag and our ability to grow crops."

Sloan says inflows and outflows would be closely monitored.

"We're not stealing any water," he said.

Sloan argues that underground storage is a better alternative to above ground dams and reservoirs.

"That's the way we should look at storage in California, with a minimal amount of environmental damage, and if possible, enhancing the environment," said Sloan.

Besides Santa Clara Valley, Sloan says 21 other agencies up and down California are interested in his ranch, but water banking on it faces a potential long drawn out fight from Central Valley growers.

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