Ever since the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors agreed in 1957 to let the Sacramento Municipal Utility District take possession of water rights to the Upper American River Project, El Dorado County has been trying to get that 40,000 acre-feet of water SMUD promised to us from the penstock of the White Rock Powerhouse.
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The Upper American River Project, commonly referred to as UARP, begins in the Rockbound Valley of Desolation Wilderness. In fact, it has two small reservoirs in that valley — Rubicon and Buck Island. They help to fill Loon Lake, the first powerhouse in what is popularly known as the Stairway of Power, with Loon Lake at 6,410 feet elevation and dropping down through seven other powerhouses until arriving at the eighth and final powerhouse of White Rock at an elevation of 993 feet. Altogether, the Stairway of Power generates 688 megawatts. Compare that to EID’s Akin Powerhouse that generates 21 megawatts.
UARP took Georgetown Divide Public Utility’s water rights to develop Loon Lake and substituted an alternative water source for Georgetown.
Somewhere along the way SMUD gave the 40,000 acre-feet of water rights to the city of Sacramento.
But El Dorado is still working to get its promised 40,000 acre-feet. How will it do that? Simple. SMUD has water for power generation, but not for consumptive water rights. The El Dorado County Water Agency and its affiliated El Dorado County Water and Power Authority are asserting county-of-origin rights to the water. There is already something of a tentative deal to reserve 15,000 acre-feet in the SMUD system for drought reserves for El Dorado County. How to transfer that to the El Dorado Irrigation District system has not been worked out yet.
But the real innovative plan by the El Dorado County Water Agency is to lay claim to the 40,000 acre-feet, but let it flow down the South Fork of the American River into Folsom Lake and out of Folsom Dam, down the American River, where it will be sold to the city of Sacramento. Sacramento will use that water to recharge its underground aquifer. In a drought or low-water year Sacramento can draw that water back up through wells. Meanwhile the El Dorado County Water Agency is being reimbursed for the millions it is spending on the environmental impact report to obtain the water rights. When El Dorado County decides it needs that water supply, it can tap into the White Rock Penstock and use the revenue that has been collected shipping the water rights to Sacramento for well recharging to now pay the power-foregone cost that SMUD will charge EID.
In the meantime, the state looks favorably upon the El Dorado County Water Agency’s plan for regional cooperation. And the bonus is that it will provide a plan for recharging ground water supplies, another goal of the state. The South Fork of the American River starts flowing into the SMUD system at its Camino Powerhouse, followed by Slab Creek and White Rock powerhouses.
El Dorado County Water Agency General Manager Dave Eggerton clarified that “the need for water (by El Dorado County) would accrue over time as our county continues to grow. A big portion of it would be for new agricultural supply as identified in the General Plan.”
As EID Director Dale Coco said at a March 24 EID meeting, “Sometimes you have to spend money to save money.”