Tuolumne Utilities District's water supply outlook has improved greatly from several months ago, when water storage experts were bracing for worst-case drought scenario.

District engineer Glen Nunnelley, at Tuesday's board meeting, outlined the status of water levels, particularly at Pinecrest Lake and Lyons Reservoir.

"At this point, we are strangely in a normal situation," he said. "The reservoirs look good and we will have a normal rest of the year."

He said Lyons Reservoir, which supplies drinking water for the majority of TUD customers, has about 1,800 acre-feet of water in storage now and is expected to draw down to about 1,500 acre-feet before the rainy season begins. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons.

Nunnelley said that water level at Pinecrest Lake, which is the primary source of water for Lyons Reservoir, was drawn down to roughly 5,608 feet above sea level by Labor Day.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center Director John Buckley said TUD did not draw as much water as predicted from Pinecrest Lake, and it was unnecessary for district officials to have asked for a 2-foot variance from the State Water Resources Control Board to lower the lake level to 5,606 feet.

"Despite all the claims made that TUD would run out of water without a 2-foot lake level variance, in reality the lake level never dropped below the normal 5,608 minimum," he said. "At the end of Labor Day, the variance was never needed."

Nunnelley disagreed and said the variance from the state was indeed necessary to provide a buffer for TUD's water supply following an abnormally dry winter.

He said the district has to predict how much water it will need through the summer months as early as May, and that it is better to ask for too much water rather than be stuck not having enough.

Additionally, he said the only reason the lake level didn't drop below 5,608 feet was that PG&E voluntarily cut the amount of water it was using for power generation down the Philadelphia Diversion canal. Water conservation measures undertaken by TUD customers also saved as much as 330 acre-feet of water.

TUD board member Ron Ringen said that 5,608 feet should not be considered a normal water year at Pinecrest Lake, and rather is a regulatory level put on TUD by a PG&E relicensing setup.

District General Manager Pete Kampa said TUD staff accurately predicted the amount of water needed over the past several months. He said that TUD errs on the side of requesting more water than needed rather than risk delays by asking the State Water Board for a variance late in the dry season.

"If we planned for the best case scenario and it didn't occur, there's no turning back," Kampa said.

Buckley also accused TUD of holding "invitation-only" meetings with local leaders and business interests regarding the district's water supply.

Board members and TUD staff said they could hold meetings without public notification if the meetings aren't attended by members of the board of directors.

TUD staffers said the district will hold a public meeting regarding the water level at Pinecrest Lake on Oct. 4.

Also at Tuesday night's meeting, the board:

• passed a resolution recognizing former board clerk Casey Prunchak, who retired recently after a 22-year career with the district. Kampa gave an emotional speech thanking her for her hard work and attention to detail.