Water Agency gets preview of water rights project

By From page A11 | August 22, 2014

The El Dorado Water & Power Authority and the County Water Agency heard an update on the El Dorado Water Reliability Project at their May 14 meeting while also reviewing budgets for the upcoming fiscal year.

Leslie Moulton, ESA project director, presented a summary of work done to date on the water rights project, saying they are still in the early stages of the environmental review process.

ESA is the firm hired to do the consulting work on the CEQA process including preparation of the Environmental Impact Report.

Moulton said work done so far has included a notice of preparation plus holding two scoping meetings in April. The notice of preparation lets the public, agencies and stakeholders know what the project is about and solicits feedback on what environmental impacts should be studied in the process. Moulton said that prior to the formal scoping meetings, ESA also held at least a dozen meetings with stakeholders.

These activities drew 14 comment letters from state agencies, regional/local agencies, organizations and individuals plus additional comments from the scoping meetings.

Key issues brought up in the letters included the need to see more detail regarding water demands and justification for the project; questions were also raised about water conservation and the needs of agriculture; stakeholders wanted more specifics about the project itself, how it will operate, water transfers, contributions and who will participate; and last were questions about the impacts to others including downstream users, effects on fish/aquatic resources from water diversions, as well as the growth inducement potential of the project.
Over the next six months Moulton said ESA will work on answering these questions as well as providing detailed scenarios.
Then in November, Moulton said she would come back to the board with a concrete assessment of different options for the project along with their technical and institutional feasibility and environmental effects before moving on to the formal EIR process.

A draft of the EIR is expected to be complete by 2015-16 with the final prepared by February 2017. The last phase of the project is a hearing before the state water board, which is planned for March of 2017.

Moulton said ultimately the EIR will answer all the issues raised, including how much water the county needs short- and long-term; the impacts on Folsom Reservoir operations and water levels as well as the impact on Lower American River purveyors, Delta diverters and the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project systems.

The impact on fish and aquatic resources, including system evaluations of the American River and Delta, will be part of the EIR. The benefits of the program will include a discussion of diversions, release timing and storage options as well as identifying ways to minimize impacts and compensate where appropriate.
Addressing the potential growth inducement of the project, the consultants will cite demand projections based on the 2004 voter-approved General Plan, as amended, plus agricultural needs. Moulton said project elements are specifically designed to limit support of growth outside the county with the project intended to serve growth and economic development in El Dorado County only.
Opening the presentation up to questions, Supervisor Ron Mikulaco asked what is the biggest hurdle to the project?
Moulton responded it would probably be institutional as there is a need to store some of the water in Folsom and they would have to work out technically how that would happen as well as gain their cooperation. The water would be secured with agreements and memorandums of understanding developed in advance. Having those in place would also make the project more attractive to the state water board, she added.
However, the presentation did not convince everyone, with EID Director Greg Prada questioning whether the project was needed. EID is currently selling only half of its water, he said, and different ballot measures may change how much development actually occurs in the county over the next 25 years. We need more storage, he insisted, but not necessarily additional water rights. He was also concerned that the county could pay for water stored downstream and later could see that water taken by an act of the governor or some other entity because it was needed elsewhere. Prada said he’d like to see a project that focuses on upstream storage instead.
Supervisor Brian Veerkamp responded by saying most of the storage would be upstream and only some of it would be stored elsewhere underground.
The discussion then drifted into how much water was needed for agricultural use versus development projects in the county which led to an argument between Prada and fellow EID Director Bill George over the price of agricultural water. At one point, Prada yelled, “Go to hell, it’s my turn” as he went on to complain about the water rates paid by agricultural users before the chairman brought the discussion to a close.
Budgets for the next fiscal year were also reviewed by General Manager Dave Eggerton with three different budgets on tap for the different boards to discuss.

The El Dorado County Water Agency budget is projected to be $4.3 million in 2014-15. The operating budget for the El Dorado Water & Power Authority is $15,141. The budget for the Water Reliability Project, which is a subset of the Water and Power Authority, is $3.16 million.

Eggerton said $3 million has been spent on the water rights project so far, not including what has been spent in this fiscal year. Another $8 million may have to be spent before the project is completed.

The water rights project is almost entirely funded by the three agencies making up the water and power authority. Contributions from the three agencies in the 2014-15 fiscal year are $785,888 from El Dorado County; $884,124 from the El Dorado Irrigation District; and $785,888 from the El Dorado County Water Agency.

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

Dawn Hodson

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