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February 27, 2024

Panetta vows push to reopen San Justo Reservoir, Clear Creek

Congressman Jimmy Panetta vowed he would push federal officials to speed up the process of reopening the long-closed San Justo Reservoir and Clear Creek Recreation Area, both in San Benito County.

Panetta made his statements at a town hall Saturday when asked about San Justo Reservoir by Hollister Mayor Ignacio Velazquez.

Panetta responded how the San Justo Reservoir, closed since 2008 due to a zebra mussel infestation, is going through bureaucratic steps. But he referenced ways he can “light a fire under the butts” of the feds to get it done.

“They’re actually working on an eradication plan,” he said. “I know you’re looking at me like, how long does it fricken take? I get it. It’s taken way too long.” 

Panetta went on to note he had received an update email on the issue last Friday that was unacceptable.

“What can I do to light a fire under the butts of these people to make sure they understand this needs to be done sooner rather than later?” he said.

San Justo Reservoir, once a popular fishing spot off Union Road near Hollister, closed in early 2008 when the exotic mussels were found at the location where federal water is stored and managed by the San Benito County Water District. The mussels can cause damage to ecosystems and infrastructure, leading to a closure for the public to prevent their spread.

Zebra mussels, courtesy of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation

Panetta said he first heard about San Justo when he initially campaigned four years ago and reflected on spending his own childhood at the Carmel River swimming with his brothers.

As for details, he said the Denver Technical Services Center is finishing a draft eradication plan, with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation planning to release the document for peer review this spring and for public review then as well.

“That project, it’s been tagged for inclusion in a nationwide effort as a case study for collaborative conservation and an adaptation strategy toolbox,” Panetta said.

He added how it’s a joint venture of the Southwest Climate Hub, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Reclamation and the Forest Service.

“So It’s on the radar of all these organizations,” Panetta said. “That’s because we’ve been pushing it onto them. My issue is, they’re going too slow.”

Panetta said once he is back from a Congressional break, he will “let them know they need to hurry it up.”

“All we’re asking for is at least so we can hike some trails or something,” Velazquez responded while seated in the audience.

Panetta went on to provide an update on Clear Creek and mentioned a bill he floated to reopen the national recreation area. He first pushed a bill in 2017 and then again in early 2019. He said the first time around, it passed the House but didn’t go further.

“Unfortunately, this Congress, they have other priorities at this point,” he said.

His goal is to get the bill on what’s called the Unanimous Consent Calendar for the House, and then onto the Senate before a possible signature by the president.

Clear Creek was found to have dangerous levels of naturally occurring asbestos in certain areas. The bill would allow public access with the idea that users know the risks involved, which some groups have called minimal.