TUD water woes: Nature, man create dicey outlook

By Alex MacLean, The Union Democrat May 30, 2014 11:30 am

Jesse Cover, of Cover’s Apple Ranch, discusses his drought concerns. Alex MacLean / Union Democrat, Copyright 2014.
This is the first in a three part series examining north and central Tuolumne County’s drought crisis, how we got here and where we’re headed. Parts 2 and 3 will run the following Fridays.

 The irony of this year’s drought situation is abundantly clear at Lyons Reservoir near Sierra Village, one of two main water sources relied upon by 44,000 Tuolumne County residents.

Thousands of gallons of pristine High Sierra water each day thunder over the dam unused. Meanwhile, downstream in Twain Harte, Sonora and Jamestown, lawns brown, flower beds wilt, restaurants withhold water unless requested and toilets go unflushed.


Any casual observer might rightly wonder, what gives? The conspiracy minded might even question if there is truly a drought, or if it’s as bad as it was billed. 

The answers are complex and maybe even counter-intuitive, but illustrate more effectively than maybe any time in county history just how tenuous the water supply for 80 percent of the county’s residents really is.

Yes, there’s a natural drought. This year’s rainfall was half of average, and the snowpack about an eighth what it normally is. But the problem goes even deeper.

Tuolumne County lacks storage — its largest water agency borrowing water and storing it behind a pair of dams it doesn’t even own or control.

The county also has historically lacked a common vision or plan for water use. The largest water purveyor, Tuolumne Utilities District, is just two decades old and adopted a hodge podge system of old tanks and bare dirt canals built to deliver water to gold miners’ pans, not residential homes.

Compounding matters, the county is suffering a double whammy of a natural drought and a man-made one, brought on by regulations drawn up during normal rain years to serve boaters, anglers and swimmers.

For all such reasons, the state Office of Emergency Services ranks Tuolumne County as one of the top three California counties most impacted by the drought, said Deputy Tuolumne County Administrator Tracie Riggs, who acts as a liaison between the county government and OES on drought issues.


For the complete story, see the May 30, 2014, edition of The Union Democrat.