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Responsible and Prudent Water Management

Lisa Westbrook and Ed Pattison
Photo by: BJ Hansen

Responsible, Prudent, Professional Water Management

A recent newspaper article in the August 12th edition of The Union Democrat, prompted me to offer an inside view of what the newspaper called the “Battle for Pinecrest.” Tuolumne Utilities District (TUD) doesn’t believe differing opinions about finite resources, like water, are “battles.” Differing opinions are simply the result when you ask any group how to prioritize the use of a finite resource when need outstrips supply. This isn’t a battle; it is simply a collection of different priorities. In situations involving the allocation of scarce resources, such as this one, our system of laws establishes a system of priority in order to achieve the greatest good. California Water Code section 106 states: “It is hereby declared to be the established policy of this State that the use of water for domestic purposes is the highest use of water and that the next highest use is for irrigation.” Therefore, the decision issued by the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) is consistent with law and the priorities established by our government. This is not to say the use of water for recreation was ignored, because it wasn’t. Any recreational impacts felt at the reservoir as a result of this decision will be mitigated by making certain improvements at Pinecrest to enhance visitors’ recreational experiences. The SWRCB decision simply does a better job of balancing domestic use with the recreational use of the reservoir.

The story also repeats a significant misunderstanding about the reservoir lake level. The SWRCB decision does not make “more” water available to TUD; it simply considers the longer period of withdrawals from the reservoir when an early end-of-spill occurs. The earlier that spill occurs, the longer the period that water is withdrawn from the reservoir for purposes unrelated to TUD demand. Past climate and hydrologic records demonstrate that an early end-of-spill results in a Pinecrest Lake level below 5,610 feet, regardless of TUD demand.

The story also suggests that TUD’s ditch systems and its customers “waste” water. While old, TUD’s ditches and flumes do not wastewater. The areas adjacent to TUD’s ditches and flumes create a riparian habitat that supplies wildlife with water, food, and shelter, and for many Tuolumne County residents a trail system that they use for recreation.

Nor do TUD’s customers wastewater. TUD’s customers have reduced water consumption 20% more than required under state law. In light of this effort, additional conservation is unrealistic when for example in 2014, under the prior SWRCB rule, during an early end-of-spill after snowpack was only one-eighth of normal, TUD customers had to reduce water use by another 50%–when Pinecrest was full of water.

We do our best every day to meet multiple, and sometimes conflicting, demands, and do so responsibly, prudently, and professionally. Our employees are keeping things working and your taps delivering water. Whether it’s rain, snow, blizzard, drought, power shut off, or any emergency we face, we handle it—for you.

Edwin R. Pattison, General Manager
Tuolumne Utilities District

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