On Oct. 7, a celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the El Dorado Irrigation District’s purchase of the Sly Park Unit took place on the shore of Jenkinson Lake.
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The crown jewel in EID’s system, the Sly Park Unit, was built in 1955 and managed by EID until 2003, when EID bought it from the United States Bureau of Reclamation for $8.6 million. For that price, EID acquired the Sly Park Dam and Reservoir, Jenkinson Lake recreation facilities, Camp Creek Diversion Dam and Tunnel, along with all the associated pipelines, conduits, tunnels, pumping plants, intake facilities, aqueducts, laterals, water storage and regulatory facilities.
The acquisition, along with the transfer in 1999 of Project 184 (the 20-megawatt El Dorado hydroelectric power generation project), gave the district control over 80 percent of its water supply.
Held at the boat ramp of Sly Park, some 40 dignitaries showed up to commemorate the event.
Describing the history of Sly Park, EID Board of Directors President George Osborne said that the project was originally conceived in the 1930s to provide a reliable and stable water supply for agricultural endeavors and for the people of Placerville. But the depression and World War II held up the project. It was later constructed as part of the American River Division of the Central Valley Project with the building of the dam completed in 1955.
Former Congressman John Doolittle discussed his role in squiring legislation to enable the transfer from the Bureau of Reclamation to EID, saying it took almost 10 years and two separate bills to do so.
The first bill covered the Sly Park Unit itself while the second secured the district’s water rights. “Thank goodness you got local control considering what is going on with water,” he added, saying that the district has some of the oldest water rights in California.
Osborne went on to describe all the recreational improvements that have taken place at the lake over the last 20 years, including the Hazel Meadow restoration boardwalk, the main boat ramp overflow parking lot, the Bumpy Meadows Trailhead and picnic area, conversion of an old house to an event center, the addition of group campgrounds, the rebuilding of four miles of waterline, the repaving of four miles of road, the addition of water and restrooms to Scout Hill, the building of an equestrian bridge over the spillway, improvement at the campgrounds, and the addition of more day use and picnic areas. Many of these projects were funded by grants and outside sources, he said, adding that EID would continue to make improvements and apply for grants.
Most important is the water, said Osborne. Jenkinson Lake holds 41,000 acre feet of water when full. We use half of it yearly, which provides the county with a two-year water supply. We also have the ability, with Project 184, to move water out of our Alpine reservoirs through Hazel Creek, he said. Ten percent of the water in this lake came from there to keep the lake as full as possible. Owning the Sly Park Unit also means we don’t have to pay $300,000 a year to the federal government for water. Over 10 years, that’s $3 million we don’t have to pass on to our ratepayers, although do have to pay a small environmental fee which goes away in 10 years. With all the Delta environmental issues, if this project were still owned by the federal government and with all the demands for water, the feds would have the authority to take a certain amount of water out of Sly Park. “It was just good common sense to buy it,” said Osborne, noting that the bonds for it will be paid off in 2019.
“Astonishingly there are some people who don’t want to fight for more water rights,” he continued. “That’s ludicrous. We take only about one percent of the water that goes by us. We want water for our future, to protect open space and agriculture. Some people also don’t want to repair the infrastructure, even though some of it was built in the mid 1800s. But you have to take the political risk to do it. The water wars will continue and we must keep fighting to have water for the future.”
Building on the theme of the economic benefits of Sly Park, Laurel Brent-Bumb, CEO of the El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce, talked about the revenue generated from recreation, film and tourism at the lake. It attracts a half-million visitors a year, who spend $2.4 million annually in the local area, she said. It is also a prime location for films and commercial photographers. EID has been nominated as one of the most film-friendly agencies in California, and many films and commercials have used the area as a backdrop because of its natural beauty.
As a wrap up to the event, EID was the recipient of recognition from the offices of Assemblyman Frank Bigelow, Senator Ted Gaines, Assemblywoman Beth Gaines and Congressman Tom McClintock.
EID General Manager Jim Abercrombie closed out the event by thanking everyone and adding that it is, “Important to celebrate our successes and this was a huge success for EID.”
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or [email protected] Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.