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Humanitarian Water Relief?

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Sonora, CA — The Tuolumne Utilities District, and other agencies, are in negotiations regarding the potential use of water out of New Melones Reservoir.

The South San Joaquin Irrigation District Board of Directors will vote on Tuesday whether to approve a measure entitled, “Humanitarian Water Transfer to the citizens of Tuolumne County.” On the table is a proposal to sell 2,400 acre ft. of water out of New Melones, at a price of $200 an acre ft. A memo from SSJID General Manager Jeff Shields states, “The prevailing price for water is currently between $400-$1,350/AF but I do not believe it is appropriate to seek market prices for water that is going to support and protect our own watershed.” The letter cites the unexpected hardship Tuolumne County faced due to last summer’s Rim Fire. The letter adds, “To put it in perspective, the volume Tuolumne needs, 2,400AF, is equal to 25% of one irrigation run for SSJID.”

When contacted this morning, Tuolumne Utilities District officials said there are still several aspects that need to be worked out and finalized.

“We’re still in negotiations, so I really can’t say much,” said Tom Scesa, T.U.D. General Manager. “I can tell you that there is discussion ongoing for T.U.D. to have the ability to buy some water out of New Melones, and use our New Melones pump station to pump it out.”

The Chicken Ranch Rancheria has been listed by SSJID as a counterparty in the negotiations, and could be involved in the transfer to some degree. Scesa indicates that everything is still far from a done deal, so its too early to get the community’s hopes too high. For example, it still needs approval from the SSJID full board, and would also have to be okayed by the State Water Board, and the federal Bureau of Reclamation. Scesa warns that getting approval from all the entities could be difficult, given the drought conditions facing the state as a whole.

Scesa also notes that while the transfer from New Melones could definitely help, it would not impact T.U.D.’s current mandatory conservation measures. That is, unless more heavy rain and snow hits the region over the coming weeks and months. “The conservation that’s needed by all of our customers is still very much real and very much needed,” says Scesa. “This water that we’re trying to acquire is more for life, safety, and health issues.”

T.U.D.’s main water supply comes from Lyons Reservoir and Pinecrest Lake.