County revives water agency

Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

The Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday to reanimate the long-dormant Tuolumne County Water Agency and is also forming a special committee that will advise county leaders on water issues and policies.

The decision comes after months of meetings among county, city and water district leaders who weighed whether the county could take up some issues and long-term planning tasks related to the local water supply.

The supervisors backed the idea with a 4-0 vote, with Supervisor Sherri Brennan absent. Tuolumne Utilities District General Manager Pete Kampa and Director Jim Grinnell also both publicly supported the move.

The idea, said Supervisor Karl Rodefer, is to "become more involved and leverage additional horsepower" on water issues.

The Tuolumne County Water Agency, which has been inactive since the 1990s, was formedin 1969 through state laws to help county water purveyors secure water resources. The county Board of Supervisors and Kampa said the agency would serve as a kind of "umbrella" entity that works along with water districts like TUD and the Groveland Community Services District.

Kampa said the agency is not meant to battle with or usurp the duties of existing water agencies. It will prioritize and take on a number of water goals and issues, including water rights, storage, infrastructure, state and federal policy, conservation and more.

Tuolumne County does not have official water rights, and the two main suppliers in the county - TUD and GCSD - get most of their water through contracts with other utilities.

"It's not a conflict at all," Kampa said. "It's not formed for that purpose."

The county will reinstate the agency, which will be run by the Board of Supervisors, and form a special county committee on water to advise and support the agency. The county will also seek outside counsel from a water attorney to help get the operation on its feet.

Water rights and future water supply have become hot topics in the county - precipitated by a pair of dry years and a state regulation requiring a minimum amount of water be stored in Pinecrest Reservoir for recreational purposes.

State plans for protecting the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, west of Stockton, and supplying water to downstream farmers and cities have also raised concerns among Tuolumne County leaders.

However, resources will be limited even with the new agency. County Administrator Craig Pedro said the agency will have to pursue its duties with "no additional funding" and "no additional staff" from the county.

In other news, the county Board of Supervisors:

• Opted to use almost $900,000 in one-time funds on local road projects to reconstruct sections of Lime Kiln Road and Woodham Carne Road with hopes of securing additional support from the Tuolumne County Transportation Council. Remaining money will be used for preventative maintenance on other roads around the county.

• Voted to send a letter of support backing TUD's request to the state for more flexibility for drawing water out of Pinecrest Lake before Labor Day. The state requires a minimum lake level of 5,608 feet above sea level. That's meant to protect recreation at the popular lake. TUD officials, however, say the regulation could impact water availability.

• Continued the process of dismantling most of the county's area planning commissions and design review committees and voted to make the design review process fall under discretionary permits. The board voted in April to consolidate the work of the area commissions, which advise on, and grant some permits for, development projects in the county.

• Accepted a $345,224 insurance payment to cover costs for fixing storm damage at the former Jamestown Landfill. The payment exceeded the what the county expected by more than $103,000.

• Saw presentations on the 2012-2013 fiscal year, which is coming in nearly on budget; on efforts to improve volunteer firefighter participation in the county; on the state of the county's roads;and on Mother Lode Job Training, a federally employment program.

• Recognized Public Defender Robert Price for 20 years of service with the county.

• Extended a snow-removal contract with Peterson Excavation and Joe Cover and Sons for $30,000 a year through October 2015.

The Union Democrat
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