Wednesday, April 16, 2014

County pursuing additional water rights


SNOW STILL lingers along the shady north bank of the South Fork of the American River in the American River Canyon. El Dorado Irrigation District draws 15,080 acre-feet of water from the South Fork and has been granted rights to another 17,000 acre-feet. The El Dorado County Water Agency is pursuing 40,000 acre-feet of area-of-origin water rights from the Sacramento Municipal Utility District's Upper American River Project. Democrat photo by Shelly Thorene

From page A1 | January 03, 2014 | 9 Comments

Editor’s note — This is the second of a two-part series on the El Dorado County Water Agency’ s shift in strategy in seeking additional water rights.

Despite all the projected benefits of the revised water rights application, it is not without its critics.

One of them is hydrologist Robert Shibatani. In an e-mail to the Mountain Democrat, Shibatani complained the project would require El Dorado County taxpayers to pick up the tab for securing a water supply for Sacramento County.

According to him, “under this new proposed project, the original monies ($2.5 million spent so far), plus an additional $5 million would be incurred by El Dorado taxpayers to fund a project to provide El Dorado Water for groundwater banking in another county.

“Rather than putting El Dorado’s long-held excess water supplies on the open water transfer market … like other water agencies, and seeking the highest bidder, El Dorado has proposed a project that would directly benefit another county without asking that beneficiary for any financial contribution to the process.

“Do El Dorado taxpayers know that they are footing the entire environmental, legal, administrative and regulatory processing costs for a project that will benefit, in part, Sacramento County without having the latter co-fund any part of this joint effort?  Can El Dorado taxpayers really afford to subsidize Sacramento County water supply security costs?

“If this goes forward, it will be the cheapest water supply acquisition project for Sacramento County ever, since the approval and processing costs would be borne completely by the El Dorado taxpayer. I wonder how many El Dorado residents even know,” concluded Shibatani.

However, Shibatani has his numbers wrong, said Eggerton.

“In addition, if the water agency had gone ahead with their first proposal,” he explained, “they probably would have faced a contested hearing. Other agencies would fight it and make the hearing more expensive and complicated.”

“I also don’t think the State Water Board would approve it if only we were benefitting and it probably would invite litigation.

“The path we’ve chosen is to build broad support for the application to make the decision easier for the state board considering all the work we’ve put into it.

“We’ve changed the project just from taking care of our water needs to a project that has all these other aspects and lots of other benefits — human and environmental. It connects us with other agencies and communities in the same river system that are affected by the same issues. We’ve got so much in common and we need to work together. Doing so creates a broader group to work with and advocate for our needs.”

Signaling our intent

With adoption of the resolution in support of the revised application, Eggerton believes it sends an important and timely message to different audiences.

One, it’s a public statement of intent to other agencies EDCWA has been partnering with in its quest to secure further water rights.

“We also wanted to be on the record before the draft EIR for the Bay Delta Conservation Plan comes out,” said Eggerton. “We want to make clear to state and federal officials that their project should not redirect negative impacts upstream or interfere with upstream rights. It’s also part of our solution for regional water reliability.”

Saying he is confident the revised application will be successful, Eggerton added that the next step will be getting board approval for the award of the first phase of the EIR for the redesigned project. That process is being broken down into phases, he said, so the board can have as much control as possible, especially over its cost since it’s a sizeable investment.

“Our goal is in two to three years to have an actual hearing before the State Water Board and then obtain the water right. That would be final unless the decision was appealed.”

Once successful, the water rights to the 40,000 acre-feet would be held by the El Dorado Water and Power Authority and any revenue that comes in would be used to pay back the expenses of obtaining those water rights.

“We also need to have a conversation with the public about what we’re doing,” he said.

“This could be one of last opportunities to pursue water right under the area-of-origin law. Because of things in the works on flow-setting for Delta inflow and outflow, the tunnel project and other actions, the reality is there’s a lot of demand for water. And while area-of-origin rights may stay on the books, the reality is that those water rights may be reallocated in the future if not pursued now.”

Eggerton said pursuing these water rights will ensure a “water supply for our children and their children. This preserves our ability to make decisions locally about what do we want the future of this county to look like. Again, it can be recreational flows, rafting flows or think about how important agriculture is to our county.

“In all those things we have examples from the past when we didn’t make the investment and we lost those opportunities like the Upper American River Project and the Middle Fork Project. We see this right now with all the competing demands for water and all the investment being made around the Delta.

“If we’re going to obtain anything of value from area-of-origin rights, this is the time to do it. This really is the draw protection for future generations. I hope we’re not short-sighted and instead take the long-term view.

“Fortunately for the water agency, that’s our mission. These are not easy decisions, but they’re critically important. We’ve got to secure the water supply, this asset that we’ve been relying on for a long time.”

Note: As an update to this story, at the Dec. 11 meeting of El Dorado Water and Power Authority, the board approved awarding a contract to the firm Environmental Science Associates (ESA) to prepare a revised Environmental Impact Report for the revised water rights application — now called the Supplemental Water Rights Project. While the work required is divided into three phases, only phase one was approved for funding for the not to exceed amount of $577,890. Estimates for Phase II and III are from $3.3 million to $4.9 million.

Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.


Discussion | 9 comments

  • EDC ResidentJanuary 02, 2014 - 9:04 pm

    Well, shoot! Who's wrong and who's right, Shibatani or Eggerton? Nonetheless, water is becoming a coveted and pricey commodity. There are several large development applications before the Board of Supervisors that will require the feeding of water. San Stino, Marble Valley, Lime Rock and Tilden Park will be thirsty competition for existing El Dorado County residents. The combined applied for lots equal 5,077 homes. This does not account for Tilden Park with it's commercial business and Hotel. Expect water ration orders soon. Folsom has already issued the order. Water-water everywhere in the Atlantic and Pacific, not in the Sierras. I expect several stabs and jabs. Let's keep this civil.

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  • Fran DuchampJanuary 02, 2014 - 9:25 pm

    I watched the LUPPU presentation several times. CEDAC, CEDAPP, Chambers, Realtors, Developers --they all supported these developments. We never saw any water drought issues in their well thought out scientific "art" (what a joke) presentations on the forecasting of the next several years. While they have been busy marketing tourism and spending thousands on bike one mentioned that "hikers and bikers" need to drink water. LUPPU is coming to an end...everyone has said it is the ultimate in community input...hard data. Maybe they can use milk to mix the cement with...oh we still have any cows in our "rural" county? I guess CEDAPP wont die after all...the "c" never stood for common they can look for water to do all these projects with. The only people who even brought up water--were silenced politely during their three mins in front of the BOS. Well hopefully there will be enough water for Starbucks--or no visitors are coming at all. I did speak with a scientist...he said if the trees were better managed--more water would be available--the trees are thick and drinking it up. Fran being civil. Well maybe not. I hated seeing the LUPPU presentations--it was so.....'false" in its process.

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  • EDC ResidentJanuary 02, 2014 - 9:39 pm

    Fran, I have also watched the LUPPU presentation. Strangely, it reminds me of the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy, toto, the tin man, the scare crow and the lion first encounter the wizard and believe he's real, insightful and all knowing. I threw in toto to round the number up to five, just like the BOS. Eventually, they find out he's a charlatan. While the tale ends well, that won't be case with regard to LUPPU. The numbers are cooked, the data is skewed and the wizard is behind the curtain manipulated by special interest groups.

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  • Fran DuchampJanuary 02, 2014 - 10:55 pm

    EDC....who s the evil witch? And the flying monkeys <---staff? I will never look at them the same--ever....good night EDC...much respect.

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  • Melody LaneJanuary 04, 2014 - 9:53 am

    EDC Resident & Fran are 110% right--it's like the Wizard of Oz manipulating the figures and the characters behind a curtain. Pull back the curtain and you'll discover a BIG Shadow Government GOB IT system manipulating all the figures. Follow the $$$ -- There's a much more meaty story "behind this story." Just take a look at the players in the River Management Advisory Committee (RMAC): Environmental Management/CEQA, BLM, rafters, CA State Parks & Recreation, American River Conservancy (i.e. Bill Center & Alan Ehrgott.) The figures and the reports submitted to the Planning Commission are all censored--there is NO RESIDENT REPRESENTATION, TRANSPARENCY or ACCOUNTABILITY!! Whoever controls the SFAR water controls the people & public perception. WAKE UP EL DORADO COUNTY before your water rights are sold out to SAC while you were sleeping!!

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  • Jim RiordanJanuary 05, 2014 - 8:17 am

    I believe we owe it to ourselves to not build more water-using structures until we have proven long term water availability, perhaps from more storage at higher elevations.. . . Storage of our water FAR AWAY from the reach of Sacramento or LA. During the last major drought my wife and I went to Los Angeles and watched lots of folks washing their cars in their driveways and letting the water run into the gutter, while we were not allowed to wash our cars. Where were their "water police"? I believe LA folks could care less about conservation . . they simply want more "confiscation" of our water to live a lifestyle unfettered by conservation. Lastly, humans are far more important than "Delta Smelt."

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  • Jim RiordanJanuary 05, 2014 - 8:41 am

    During the last drought years my wife and I drove through LA and saw LOTS of people washing their cars in driveways and letting the excess water flow into the gutter, while we were forbidden to wash vehicles at all. I say let LA find their own water and don't ask for more of ours. If we want additional storage it should be UPHILL, not downhill.

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  • EvelynJanuary 05, 2014 - 8:44 am

    Re water conservation: I have heard (but don't know as fact) that Sacramento consumers are not even metered. Is that true?

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  • James E.January 05, 2014 - 9:28 am

    Evelyn, it is only in recent years that there has been an attempt to install water meters in Sacramento. I think most still do not have water meters. The rationale might be that Sacramento takes water out of the American and Sacramento rivers, uses it, cleans it, and then returns it to the rivers. Perhaps someone more familiar with water meters and water use in Sacramento might educate us.

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