Tuolumne Utilities District staff are advising its Board of Directors to declare a tree mortality state of emergency.

They seek the declaration so the district is eligible for state and federal funding for removal of trees that are dead or dying due to drought stress and beetle infestation.

"It is now estimated that there are more than 500 dead trees that could damage the ditch system and other TUD facilities," district staff said in a report advancing today's board meeting in Sonora.

District staff have been working with the Tuolumne County Office of Emergency Services to find funding for tree removal. In late October, Cal OES officials approved dead and dying hazard tree removal funding statewide through the California Disaster Assistance Act.

Don Perkins, TUD operations manager, spoke to the board in mid-October about tree mortality around the ditch system and other district facilities. Eric Hall, the district water master, walked the Tuolumne Main Canal and used GPS to map locations of the hazard trees in relation to the system of ditches and flumes that convey most of the district's water to 44,000 people in Tuolumne County.

At that time, Perkins and Hall estimated there were more than 450 dead and dying trees threatening to damage TUD facilities. Hall was working with Pacific Gas and Electric, Cal Fire and individual homeowners to address cutting them down and removing them.

Some dead trees have required crane removal because of their location, and there are more that may require the same, Perkins said two months ago. Removal in some locations can cost as much as $125 per tree.

Specific ditches affected by drought-stressed and bark beetle-infested trees in October included the Section 4 Ditch, where there were 24 dead trees, 15 more that TUD staff were watching, and eight trees that were removed, Hall said.

There were also 88 dead trees along the Upper Soulsbyville Ditch and 14 more being watched, as well as 104 dead trees along the Lower Soulsbyville Ditch. There were 44 dead trees along the Upper Columbia Ditch and 152 dead trees along Eureka Ditch.

Other TUD facilities threatened by dead and dying trees in October included the Twain Harte wastewater treatment plant, where there were 125 dead trees and 99 trees removed at a cost of $6,740. There were also dead trees at Rainbow Reservoir, Cedar Ridge water treatment plant, Tuolumne water treatment plant, and at Phoenix Lake.

PUBLIC MEETING: The Tuolumne Utilities District Board of Directors. 2 p.m. today at 18885 Nugget Blvd., Sonora.