Tuolumne County needs a long term water solution

By Guest Opinion August 13, 2012 08:56 am

The water supply of Tuolumne County is vital to the growth and future of this community. This water supply from Pinecrest Lake and Lyons Reservoir, which are owned and operated by PG&E, serves the needs of the residences, commercial businesses, schools, industry, government, the hospital, a growing agricultural industry, fire protection, etc. in Tuolumne County. 

Currently there are no other readily available and properly located sources of water supply available to Tuolumne Utilities District (TUD) or its customers, which can meet the current and future water needs of the community. Unlike other water agencies, TUD does not export any of this water outside the county.

This summer, as you are well aware, has been an exceptionally dry and hot summer. With a low snowpack, the water supply for the county has been reduced. Not only do we have to be concerned about the water supply but also how the state government is controlling access to this water. 

As we have all experienced, the state government is extending its reach and influence into our daily lives; not always to the benefit of our pocketbook or the way we choose to live our lives. 

In 2009 the state changed the way TUD could receive water deliveries from PG&E from Pinecrest Lake, the main water supply for TUD. The state set a minimum water surface elevation at Pinecrest Lake (as measured at Labor Day) that is 13 percent higher than it has historically been operated by PG&E. This action of the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) has reduced our access to water supply, significantly increased the cost to TUD customers, and at the same time forced TUD to restrict its customer’s water consumption.

TUD has been working closely for three years with the state in an effort to reduce the restrictions on the Pinecrest Lake elevation. Based on the results of a Lake Level Study completed by PG&E, TUD and PG&E have submitted a request asking the SWRCB to modify the lake level restriction to more closely match the way the lake level has always been managed, and at the same time provide for ongoing water supply for our community. In this request, TUD is not trying to “drain” Pinecrest Lake. Rather, TUD and PG&E are trying to convince the state that the lake elevation restriction should be consistent with the agreements reached through many years and hundreds of meetings among TUD, the Forest Service, PG&E, environmental groups and others. The Lake Level Study clearly showed that recreation would not be impacted at the requested lower elevations.

This year, the SWRCB approved a one-time variance to the lake level restriction. As part of its approval, the state required TUD to impose mandatory water restrictions on its customers. Prior to the lake level restriction, the agreement with PG&E and the water supply from Pinecrest Lake provided a reliable water supply well into the future without additional significant financial investment. 

Unfortunately that has changed and with the current restriction, as now this county is extremely limited on water supply for future economic growth. 

We simply cannot leave the fate of the water supply for the county in the hands of the state each and every year or we will surely find ourselves with less water available and the associated economic loss, as well as increased cost to the community.

TUD and its predecessors have long been considering other water supply options such as increased groundwater use, increased water storage at new or existing reservoirs, reservoir restoration, securing water rights independent of PG&E, and increased water conservation. Each of these requires many years and millions of dollars to accomplish. All take risk and community compromise. That is the purpose of the upcoming joint meeting of TUD Board of Directors and the county Board of Supervisors, being held at 1:30 Tuesday in the County Board of Supervisors Chambers. 

The time is now for us to join together as a community. 

This includes knowing the truth about the current condition of the supply, threats to it, as well as opportunities for improvement to ensure that a reliable supply of water is available for current and future generations of residents and visitors to Tuolumne County.

Pete Kampa is the general manager of Tuolumne Utilities District.