Persistence pays off

The staff at the El Dorado Irrigation District has been dogged in its pursuit of getting a water delivery contract from the Bureau of Reclamation. The persistence and innovative ideas have begun to pay off.

After securing the additional 17,000 acre-feet of water from Project 184, confirming those water rights with the State Water Resources Control Board, then beating the state in court to make the water rights permanent and not temporary, EID has spent a decade trying to get its water from Folsom Lake.

The decade-long holdup was the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

But now after a decade the wheel has suddenly squeaked and begun to move.

How did that happen?

EID has been looking for an alternative to an expensive warm-water pipeline from El Dorado Hills to the lake to save the cold water for the salmon.

What the district did, however, was work with the bureau to seek better ways for it to manage its cold water pool. Those discussions and technical reviews found that the Bureau of Reclamation could achieve more on its own by better controlling the dam shutters that were leaking substantial amounts of cold water at the wrong time.

So, EID’s environmental and engineering staff worked diligently with the bureau to produce cold water pool management modeling.

The logjam broke just recently when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released a draft environmental assessment on giving EID half of its water rights temporarily for five years. Temporary? Five years? Well, the really big deal is getting to the point of doing a formal environmental assessment. That means the National Marine Fisheries Service has given the nod to the bureau and EID. EID did all the environmental assessment and the bureau requested formal consultation with NMFS a number of times.

EID, the bureau and NMFS met a number of times and all eventually agreed that a “reasonable and prudent alternative” was to improve the structures at Folsom Dam to better manager the cold water pool.

Now the National Environmental Policy Act analysis is on a 60-day clock and ticking. If that succeeds early next year EID will get 8,500 acre-feet of water rights from Folsom Lake.

The full amount of water rights is 17,000 acre-feet in additional to the 15,080 acre-feet the district has held from Project 184 since 1919.

Project 184 is a series of four alpine reservoirs, a diversion dam on the South Fork of the American River that sends about 85 cubic feet of water per second into 22 miles of canals, flumes and tunnels, where it eventually winds up in Forebay Reservoir in Pollock Pines. From there the consumptive water rights are sent to a water treatment plant in Camino and the rest goes down a penstock to the 21-megawatt El Dorado Powerhouse, which then returns the water to the South Fork.

In the winter the Camino Plant serves all of EID, including El Dorado Hills. This winter, though, emergency work is being done on several hundred feet of flumes and a cave-in in a 1,000-foot-long tunnel has cut off water to Forebay. No power generation, no winter water to El Dorado Hills. Instead EID is spending $40,000 a month to pump water out of Folsom Lake and $16,000 a month to pump water out of Sly Park’s Jenkinson Lake.

EID currently is alloted 7,500 acre-feet of water out of Folsom and it sends down 4,500 acre-feet of pre-1914 water rights that it takes out of Folsom.

EID is to be congratulated on its success in working the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to get part of its 17,000 acre-feet of Permit 21112 Water Rights. The next challenge for EID will be to begin figuring out an upstream diversion and storage for its full allotment of Permit 21112 water. The Texas Hill Reservoir site will be a likely location for this, especially in light of its proximity to the existing Diamond Ditch.

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