An update on the El Dorado Water Reliability Project was given at the March 12 board meeting of the El Dorado Water and Power Authority (EDWPA).
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If successful, the project would add 40,000 acre-feet of new water rights for the county under 1927 area-of-origin law, with the water stored in the Upper American River Project of the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.
The project was originally proposed to the State Water Resources Control Board back in 2008, but because of widespread opposition it was pulled back and underwent a redesign. Now ready to move ahead, late last year a contract for the first phase of the environmental review process was issued on the redesigned project.
Dave Eggerton, general manager of the Water Agency, said the additional water is projected to be needed when the county is built out by 2075. In the interim, it will provide drought protection with the excess water banked — sold to help pay the cost of the water rights application or used for environmental purposes.
Eggerton said ultimately it would be up to the county to decide how best to use the water, whether it’s for agriculture, recreation, fishery or residential/commercial development. “This project will give us the water supply to be able to make those decisions.”
Eggerton reported he had heard from other water agencies who are interested in pooling their water supplies to create an even larger water bank. The pictures of a largely empty Folsom Lake have made it the poster child for the drought in California, said Eggerton, and has prompted more interest in collaborative efforts to conserve and store water in the region.
Water Agency Resource Engineer Tracey Eden-Bishop then added to Eggerton’s presentation by going over projections of the growth in supply and demand in the county based on residential and commercial expansion, new areas annexed to EID and growth in agricultural demand.
However, the presentation drew a mixed reaction from the board with some of the newer EDWPA board members more skeptical about the project.
Supervisor Ron Mikulaco queried the staff about who would pay for the application if it’s not successful.
EID Director Greg Prada said that he didn’t think there was sufficient justification for the additional 40,000 acre-feet of water because projections of growth in demand were unrealistic, although he agreed there was a need for more storage capacity. Like Mikulaco, he also questioned where the money would come from to pay for the application, saying ratepayers shouldn’t pay for it.
However, those who had been on the board longer were more supportive. Supervisor Ray Nutting commented that, “California is still one of the premier places in the world to live even though we all complain about the politics. And projections are that it will be one of the fastest growing areas in the world. Water is extremely precious and there is only so much water out there. So, logic dictates to me that it would be a disservice to our ratepayers if we did not capture the supplies when we had the opportunity.” He went on to say that pursuing the additional water would also help support agriculture in the county.
David Aladjem, who is with the legal firm hired to litigate the water rights application, added that the projections of water needs would be firmed up later on as part of the detailed environmental impact report.
He went on to note that there had been reports in the media of whether the state water board would try to take away water rights in light of the drought, with some water board members saying they would honor existing water contracts while others said all water rights were on the table. In response he said U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, along with Reps. John Garamendi and Jim Costa, sent the water board a letter asking them, “What are you doing?” Aladjem said that if the water board did try to take away water rights, it would find itself mired in endless lawsuits.
Eggerton concluded the presentation saying that he thought the El Dorado Water Reliability Project would attract a lot of attention statewide because of the way it balances human and environmental needs.
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.