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Pinecrest Lake Can Drop Lower During Drought Years

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Pinecrest, CA — The state has approved a change that will give Tuolumne County more water security during drought periods.

The California State Water Resources Control Board has for many years required Pinecrest Lake to maintain a minimum water level of 5,608 feet until Labor Day. The reservoir is a major supplier for the Tuolumne Utilities District. The rule has created challenges during times of drought. For example, in 2014 TUD mandated that customers reduce consumption by 50-percent in order to ensure there is enough water to meet the needs of residents.

Over the past 11 years the district has been studying the issue and working to persuade the state to allow more flexibility.

As part of the change just approved by the water board, if the “end of spill” (when snowmelts ends) comes after July 15 the level must still remain above 5,608 feet prior to Labor Day.

However, if end of spill happens between July 1-14 it can drop to 5,606. If it happens between June 25-30 it can go to 5,605 and if it is June 18-24, it can go to 5,603.

TUD General Manager Ed Pattison says, “It is a victory for the residents of Tuolumne County to ensure water supply reliability, and it will have minimal impact on recreation.”

TUD had requested the flexibility to drop as low as 5,600 feet, noting that there would be no significant or unmitigable impacts to recreation at that level.

During wet years the 5,608 ft. rule is not a problem, as the district first pulls water from Lyons Reservoir, and later from Pinecrest.

Negotiations Continue With PG&E About Infrastructure:

On a related note, TUD is still in negotiations with PG&E to eventually acquire Pinecrest Reservoir, Lyons Reservoir, the Phoenix Power House, the Tuolumne Main Canal, and related water rights.

Pattison adds, “It is a huge effort that has been underway for the last couple of years, and we expect it will take another couple of years. We’re working through the negotiations of what that acquisition is going to look like, and how we’re going to operate and maintain the facilities for Tuoumne County.”