EID seeks to keep more of Deer Creek’s recycled water

Michael Raffety

Mountain Democrat, 2-26-14

“Give us back our water,” the El Dorado Irrigation District will ask of the state water board.

On a 4-0 vote, with Director George Osborne absent, the EID board Monday approved a two-pronged plan for the Wastewater Treatment Plant to quit sending 1 million gallons of high-quality recycled water down the creek every day.

The first element is for EID to seek a temporary exemption from that requirement because of the drought. During the irrigation season it will save 300 out of the average of 436 acre-feet of potable water that are used to supplement the recycled water sold to homes in Serrano, Serrano Golf Course and subdivisions along Latrobe Road. That savings would come from cutting the discharge into Deer Creek in half to 0.5 million gallons per day.

Because of the governor’s emergency drought declaration the district can get a temporary exemption from the 1 mgd requirement for 180 days, with the possibility of one renewal should another drought year follow this one.

The second prong is a longer-term effort to get that 1 mgd cut in half permanently. That requires a petition to the State Water Quality Control Board, a formal environmental review and a hydrology study.

The benefit is a $210,000 savings to the district by substantially reducing the high cost of potable water that it has to sell at the lower recycled water rate as a supplement to meet all the recycled water needs. Potable water costs $1,200 per acre-foot compared to $500 per acre-foot for recycled water, according to Elizabeth Wells, engineering manager for wastewater and recycled water.

The case for the permanent reduction in discharge into Deer Creek is being aided by Dr. Michael Bryan of Robertson-Bryon Inc. Bryan is an aquatic toxicologist, who has consulted on a number of issues relating to the Deer Creek WWTP and has saved the district millions by convincing the state water board not to impose various new discharge requirements. He has been consulting on Deer Creek for 19 years.

Of the 1992 hearings that forced the district into discharging 1 mgd from the Deer Creek plant, Wells said, “We felt the evidence was loosely based and not based on scientific evidence.”

Bryan is providing that evidence, first by doing a detailed hydrologic analysis of Deer Creek. “I’m really impressed by the quality of the modeling,” Wells said.

In discussion with California Department of Fish and Wildlife, it was suggested that EID demonstrate that the creek was historically ephemeral downstream of the plant that was built in 1974, document the extent of surface flows downstream and what would be required to maintain the aquatic community.

What has been completed so far is a hydrologic analysis, gathering of current and past ecological information and development of a hydraulic model for Deer Creek.

That included collection of aerial photos from 1954 through 1973, which show that the riparian vegetation and ecological sources downstream of the sewer plant were doing just fine on their own. Bryan said the water went subsurface during the summer.

“No decrease in riparian density or corridor length is expected under 0.75 or 0.5 mgd scenarios, relative to the existing 1 mgd scenario,” Wells wrote in her report.

The next phase is doing an EIR that would be completed in late 2014 or early 2015. The final phase would be seeking a change in discharge petition from the State Water Quality Control Board.

At the Feb. 24 meeting, the board approved a nearly $26,000 contract for RBI and capitalized labor costs of nearly $30,000 for Wells, Wastewater Operations Manager Vicki Caulfield and Assistant General Counsel Brian Poulsen.

The EIR and petition were budgeted for $300,000 in the next three years of the current five-year Capital Improvement Plan. Wells indicated it could be half that cost if the district’s petition is not protested.

“It’s a water supply enhancement project,” said General Manager Jim Abercrombie.

“We will show there is a higher and better use of the water,” Bryan said.


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