Water rights under attack

By From page A4 | October 30, 2013

The real challenge for the two new directors the voters will choose for the El Dorado Irrigation District is to hold onto what we have. By that we mean the water rights that enable EID to serve current and future customers.

The heart of EID’s historical water rights is Project 184, which includes water rights that date back to 1856. In 1919, the state Railroad Commission, the predecessor to the State Water Quality Control Board, granted the El Dorado Water Users Association 15,080 acre-feet of water from Project 184 before allowing Western States Power Co. to take over the Deep Water and Gravel Mining Co.’s system of alpine lakes, canals and flumes. When EID acquired this system, called project 184, from PG&E in 1999 it gained control over the entire collection of 1856 water rights.

Those rights include 70 cubic feet per second from the American River year-round for consumptive use and for power generation. In addition to the 15,080 acre-feet, EID used this to lay claim to another 17,000 acre-feet, to which the SWQCB objected and tried to subject to Term 91. That provision would have forced EID to surrender water to the state whenever it called for it. In 2003, EID won a lawsuit against the state, thus leaving the 17,000 acre-feet exempt from Term 91. Concurrent with that a Sierra Club lawsuit claiming EID didn’t have pre-1914 rights, the 15,080 acre-feet was decided in the district’s favor.

There is more to the 1856 water rights than the 70 cfs shunted into the canal and flume system by the diversion dam near Kyburz. Along the 22 miles of flume and canal that remain from the original Deep Water and Gravel Mining Co. are seven creeks, streams and Mill Creek, each at 10 cfs year-round. From Lake Aloha comes 5,179 acre-feet, from Caples Lake comes 8,000 acre-feet, from Echo Lake 1,943 and from Silver lake comes 8,640 acre-feet.

Additional early water rights include the Sumerfield, Gold Hills and Farmers free ditches that draws water from Slab Creek, Hangtown Creek and Weber Creek. Those date to 1854, 1853 and 1855, respectively, for a total of 19 cfs.

These water rights predate the Water Commission of 1914. Even more EID water rights, such as 1,000 acre-feet stored behind Weber Dam and diversions from Sly Park and Camp Creek into Sly Park Reservoir for a total of 33,4500 acre-feet, predate the 1927 Fiedenbaum Act. That latter act exempted prior water rights from due diligence requirements as the state applied for unallocated waters to sue for the State Water Project.

A Dec. 4, 2012, report from the State Water Master to state Water Quality Control Board calls for the state to take control of all water rights, even those predating 1965 and predating the 1931 law protecting county-of-origin water rights. It’s Term 91 on steroids and it would overturn decades of state Supreme Court rulings. With a super-majority of Democrats in the Legislature, don’t bet against this latest putsch against local water rights. They gave us the Delta Stewardship Council, which has already tried to lay claim to the entire watershed.

EID must remain vigilant, keep its capital lobbyist, keep active in regional and state water associations and battle against this attempted thievery.


Mountain Democrat

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