A River Runs Through Them
Reprinted With Permission By Amador Ledger-Dispatch
Written By Raheem Hosseini:
A municipal utility district’s plan to expand Pardee Reservoir has local conservationists and some politicians claiming the water-generating scheme would come with significant environmental costs.
The East Bay Municipal Utility District released a draft version of a water supply plan in February. The draft program environmental impact report, or PEIR, is meant to anticipate water needs 30 years from now. A public comment period on the proposal began with its Feb. 19 release and will last 45 days, until April 6.
Over the next two weeks, four meetings will be held to obtain comments from the public, including one in Sutter Creek on Monday.
In the district’s notice of the PEIR’s availability, it said the proposal was intended to identify solutions to meet water needs during dry periods through the year 2040. There is sufficient water in the Mokelumne River basin during normal and above normal precipitation years, the district said on its Web site, but not during drier years, "even after accounting for demand reductions from conservation and recycling programs."
That’s because other water agencies, including Amador’s, rely on the Mokelumne River for their supplies as well. Water from the river is stored in Lake Tabeaud and conveyed by pipeline to the Tanner Water Treatment Plant, where it is treated for use by those living in Jackson, Sutter Creek, Amador City, Drytown, Ione and, soon, Plymouth.
Expected growth within the district’s expansive service area, which stretches from the Central Valley to Bay Area, and the potential effects of climate change make the basin’s existing supplies appear less secure, according to the district. The Amador Water Agency has set 2030 as the year local water supplies would be pinched by growth. The agency officially endorsed EBMUD’s proposal last May.
"Although there are many details that need to be addressed and resolved, the Amador Water Agency Board supports pursuing these projects which could benefit Amador Water Agency and regional partners such as EBMUD, by adding additional water supplies to meet further growth consistent with our general plans," AWA general manager Jim Abercrombie wrote EBMUD after directors offered their formal support.
Whether there’s enough water for future years has been a subject of disagreement. Amador County has somewhat complicated rights to 20,000 acre feet of Mokelumne River water, per 1958 contract with EBMUD, which has rights to the next 325,000 acre feet in years with sufficient rainfall.
In a widely distributed e-mail, county Supervisor Louis Boitano predicted the water rights issue would prove an obstacle to the utility district.
"EBMUD has the 1958 agreement with the county to deal with first," the District 4 supervisor said, "which should protect the county from expanding Pardee by any means."
But Katherine Evatt, president of the Foothill Conservancy, which is leading the charge against widening the reservoir, said the water rights issue wasn’t that clear-cut and EBMUD could take advantage of the murkiness.
"They can build a dam with San Joaquin or Calaveras water in it," Evatt said in explaining the district’s possible argument. "You can put other people’s water rights in your dam."
The Central Valley Business Times reported this week that EBMUD applied to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a 30-year Safe Harbor Agreement permit covering 28,000 acres in parts of San Joaquin, Amador and Calaveras counties for three federally threatened species: Valley elderberry longhorn beetle, California red-legged frog, and California tiger salamander.
If granted, it would be the largest such agreement in the nation.
The EBMUD application centers on two large dams and their reservoirs, Camanche and Pardee, and the lands surrounding them for roughly a mile out from the reservoirs, plus lands adjacent to the Mokelumne River for a half-mile below Camanche Dam.
EBMUD has proposed that the agreement provide authorized incidental "take" of the three federally listed species and any future activities associated with raising the heights of the dams. A spokesman for the utility district told the Times there are no firm plans to enlarge the reservoirs any time in the near future.
According to the state Department of Water Resources, the Pardee Reservoir was 93 percent full, with 183,480 acre feet of water stored, as of midnight Wednesday. The reservoir is still weeks away from seeing its supplies fatten from spring runoff. The annual average runoff of the Mokelumne River at Pardee Reservoir is 753,000 acre feet, according to an integrated regional water management plan released by the AWA in 2006.
While Pardee is near capacity, the news has been grimmer for other parts of the state. State officials say major reservoirs are at less than one-third of their capacity. Meanwhile, conservationists and river groups, as well as some elected officials, argue the district’s plan is a power grab that would peel away hard-won access that was begrudgingly granted a mere decade ago.
"Less than 10 years ago, we forced East Bay MUD to allow public access to the Mokelumne’s Middle Bar reach. That was supported by Calaveras County and every city in Amador County because of the economic benefit," recalled Foothill Conservancy executive director Chris Wright. "East Bay MUD even put on a celebration when they opened the boating takeout there. And now they want to drown the same reach of river when they should be putting in trails, instead. It’s incredible."
On Monday, the Jackson City Council voted 4-0 to oppose the district’s expansion plan, urging it to focus on conservation efforts instead.
Water supply projects located within and outside East Bay MUD’s service area – in the western Sierra Nevada foothills, upcountry areas near the basin, along the Sacramento Valley and in the Bay Area – would create supplemental water supplies, the district claimed on its Web site.
Opponents say the district’s plan to enlarge Pardee Reservoir by more than 1,200 acres would destroy miles of the Mokelumne River and inundate the Middle Bar Bridge, making the river unusable for whitewater recreation and stream fishing. The bridge would be replaced by a fishing pier in the district’s plan. The Electra run would also be submerged and the project would necessitate the construction of a new Highway 49 bridge.
"They don’t need to destroy one more river mile … especially when they can meet their water demand with more conservation," Wright said. "East Bay MUD doesn’t need the water, but we do need the river."
Amador County residents will get their opportunity to address EBMUD officials March 16, when the district holds its second meeting in the Amador Water Agency’s board room in Sutter Creek. The two-hour session begins 6:30 p.m.
Calaveras County Supervisor Steve Wilensky, another opponent of the expansion plan, was expected to attend.
The public can also send or e-mail comments to Thomas B. Francis, PE, EBMUD Water Supply Improvements Division, 375 11th St. MS 407, Oakland, CA 94607 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Associated Press and Central Valley Business Times contributed to this report.