With the water level in Stumpy Meadows Reservoir still an issue and makeup rainfall an iffy proposition at best, the board of the Georgetown Divide Public Utility District took steps that may eventually lead to cutbacks in water use.
At the March 11 meeting, Interim General Manager Gary Hoffmann reported that the reservoir is at 13,890 acre-feet as measured on Feb. 27. The 16 inches of rain they received in February added almost 1,800 new acre-feet to Stumpy.
However, the reservoir remains far from full and the district’s drought plan says a Drought Stage 1 can be called when the water storage level is at or below 17,000 acre-feet. At that point, portable water cutbacks could be up to 15 percent and irrigation cutbacks could be up to 50 percent. Even more draconian measures kick in if the water level is lower.
With little hope that a whole lot more rain is on the way, the board decided to hold a public hearing at the board meeting in April to decide whether or not to issue a formal declaration of a water emergency. District Counsel Barbara Brenner said the state Water Code requires a public hearing and determination before the board can make such a declaration. Brenner added that if the district intends to apply for state drought funds, a Drought Stage 1 or 2 declaration will be needed to justify applying for those funds.
The board also learned that while it has both a drought plan and a water management plan, only the water management plan has been formally adopted by the board. As a result, the board subsequently decided to hold a special meeting to discuss how to merge the two plans. That meeting is tentatively scheduled for March 25 at 5:30 p.m.
With growers in the audience expressing concern over how a possible drought declaration could affect the amount of irrigation water they receive, the board discussed the idea of holding a special workshop of district stakeholders to brainstorm ideas on how to manage the water they have if cutbacks do have to be made. One grower suggested having a suspension policy so those who have a water allotment but who don’t need the water can temporarily transfer it to others. Others suggested rotating water among those who only need it during certain times of the year. No date for the workshop has been set yet.
The board also voted to file a temporary emergency change petition with the state water board that would allow them to store 2 cubic-feet-per-second of water they now have to release. The cost of that petition is estimated to be between $15,000 and $20,000. However the El Dorado County Water Agency said it would pick up 70 percent of the cost.
Hoffmann urged the board to pursue the petition, saying he had attended a meeting held by the state at which it was said that Gov. Brown’s drought declaration authorizes the State Water Resource Control Board to take away water rights if needed. “The phrase the vice chair used (at the meeting) was, ‘No water rights are sacrosanct. All is on the table, depending on the drought situation,’” he said.
Hoffmann went on to report the district is doing repairs on ditches upstream of the Sandtrap Siphon. The redesigned plans for the Auburn Lake Trails Water Treatment Plant are scheduled to be completed by March 14. The district submitted a grant application to the Bureau of Reclamation to complete the installation of lining various sections of the ditch system. Hoffmann estimated that the water loss in the ditches at 20 to 25 percent, which was the basis for applying for the grant. The El Dorado County Water Agency picked up the cost of preparing the grant application. The Division of Safety of Dams also informed the district that Dam Safety fees would be going up by 8 percent.
Earlier in the evening, Shively addressed the board as the president of the Management and Confidential Employees Association for the district. He said that after the 2010 election, there had been discussions among the board of cutting salaries and benefits by 20 percent. Subsequently, the managers and administrative employees formed their own association. In November 2012, they reached an agreement with the board but it was only good for one month. Since then, the association has been without an agreement and subsequently members have voted to join the public employees union.
The board also heard a presentation by Dave Eggerton, general manager of the El Dorado County Water Agency, on the agency’s efforts to pursue additional water rights. Currently it is pursuing those through two projects: the Fazio project which seeks to gain 15,000 acre-feet of water transfers from the Central Valley Project as well as another 40,000 acre-feet of water stored by SMUD at Folsom Lake. He said the agency has already spent $3 million on the latter project and expects to spend another $8 million by the time they present their application to the state water board in 2017.
Eggerton said the plan is to use revenue from the additional water to pay back the cost of pursuing these additional water rights as well provide what water is needed as the county is built out. However, in order to pay for the project over the next few years, the agency may not have grant funds available for local water purveyors, although it can still assist local agencies pursue other types of grants, such as $549 million in drought relief funds recently made available by the state. Eggerton said he believes this might be the last chance to apply for area of origin water rights, adding that the county will need the water in the future.
The next regular meeting of the board is April 8 at 5:30 p.m.
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or [email protected] Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.