GDPUD revisits water rights project

By From page A1 | January 20, 2014

A long discussion of water rights ended with the board of the Georgetown Divide Public Utility District (GDPUD) deciding to have a public workshop on the topic at a later date.

The topic arose at Tuesday’s board meeting as a result of the El Dorado Joint Water and Power Authority (EDJWPA) announcement in November that it intended to resubmit its application to the State Water Board for an additional 40,000 acre feet of water rights.

GDPUD had been a party to a previous effort by the EDJWPA to pursue additional water rights, with GDPUD slated to receive 10,000 of the 40,000 acre-feet sought. However in 2005 they withdrew from the EDJWPA after deciding it wasn’t in their interest to continue.

District Counsel Barbara Brenner provided an overview of GDPUD’s role in that earlier submission, adding that it was separate from the issue of SMUD’s relicensing and the $90,000 annual income the district was expected to receive via the county.

Earlier in the meeting, Director Maria Capraun suggested the two issues were related.

Noting that going after additional water rights is very expensive and time-consuming, Brenner told the board that the legal strategy behind the initial water rights application was to argue for area of origin rights. But the application ran into considerable opposition and the new application will as well, she predicted. The process then stopped for several years and is now proceeding using a different philosophy, a different legal team and a different set of consultants to do the environmental work.

Brenner said the application for the additional water rights will be costly with the legal work expected to cost $1 million initially and with phase one of the environmental work expected to cost another $1 million. The total cost of all the environmental consulting work is estimated to be between $3 million and $4 million.

Brenner said if successful, the bulk of the additional water would go into an aquifer recovery program for the first 10 years. As demand increased, it would come back to the foothill counties and be utilized.

Also included in the application is a proposal to sell a portion of the water to recover some of the cost of the application process. However, according to Brenner, if EDJWPA can’t identify a specific user in the application, the water board won’t approve it.

Adding to Brenner’s overview, Director Norm Krizl provided some background information on the reasons why GDPUD left the EDJWPA, saying at the time the district had no feasible access or immediate use for the water. “We considered pursuing and then selling the additional water but couldn’t identify a source of beneficial use. They (the water board) won’t give it to you unless there is a beneficial use planned for the water and a commitment to build the necessary infrastructure,” he said. “EID (El Dorado Irrigation District), on the other hand, has the ability to use the water in Folsom when they need it.”

Krizl said he believes EDJWPA has spent $5 million on the project so far.

“We invested several hundred thousand dollars. Part of our deal when we got out was we would get all of our money back and walk away, and that’s what happened. To get back in this, we’d have to be a proportional partner,” he said. Noting that it is EID and not the county that is largely paying for the application, Krizl said for GDPUD to get back in to the EDJWPA, the district would be expected to pick up its share of a project costing tens of millions of dollars. “There are also some real wild cards with what the state is currently doing. It’s a real gamble,” he concluded.

Krizl went on to explain the reasoning behind GDPUD walking away from the project, saying that for GDPUD to have used the additional 10,000 acre-feet of water, they would have had to build the infrastructure to pump it from Folsom Lake to Cool or else take the water from one of the Upper American River Project Reservoirs and then reimburse SMUD for what it lost in revenue from the reduction in hydroelectric power.

Resident Pat Snelling insisted the district already had rights to the 10,000 acre-feet of water because of a bill introduced in Congress in 2002 by U.S. Representative John Doolittle. She also maintained the district didn’t need to have a specific user in mind when pursuing additional water rights.

However both Krizl and Brenner disagreed, with Krizl saying the state has jurisdiction over the water in California and Brenner citing a case she litigated. “You can’t put together an application solely for the purpose of profiting from water,” she said. “You can’t speculate on water rights.”

With additional questions arising over the Bay-Delta plan, GDPUD’s history of water rights, funds due GDPUD from SMUD’s relicensing and water quality issues, the board agreed with Brenner’s suggestion to hold a public workshop sometime in the future to address all the topics brought up.

Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or [email protected] Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.

Dawn Hodson

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