The general manager for Calaveras County Water District sought support Tuesday from Tuolumne Utilities District for its efforts to get Congress to pass a law allowing the district to store 100,000 acre-feet at federally managed New Melones Reservoir.
That’s more than 32 billion gallons of water, and CCWD management wants to store it in New Melones as an alternative water supply for Cal Fire’s Columbia Air Attack Base, as backup for drought emergencies, and for foreseeable disasters including potential damage to water distribution that includes vulnerable wood flumes dating back to the Gold Rush.
New Melones is part of the federal Central Valley Project, and it’s operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. According to Calaveras County Water District staff, the federal Warren Act of 1911 allows local water districts to contract with Reclamation to store and convey non-project water in reservoirs like New Melones that have capacity beyond stored project water.
“We need to partner with as many agencies as we can on this,” said Dave Eggerton, who has been CCWD’s general manager for the past year.
Another reason CCWD lists as a mutual benefit is drought protection for residents of Calaveras and Tuolumne counties who have wells that have failed or will fail in the future.
The Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors sent a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein in October strongly supporting CCWD’s request for a Warren Act contract to store water at New Melones.
John Buckley, of the Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center in Twain Harte and a TUD customer, urged the elected TUD directors and TUD staff to proceed with caution in considering if there really are true benefits for Tuolumne Utilities District and its ratepayers.
“I’m not taking a position on whether TUD should or should not support this,” Buckley said. “But some of the information listed as beneficial is not technically accurate, or it’s highly dubious.
“Highlighting the air attack base, in recent years New Melones has been so low it’s been unfeasible to pump water up and out of there,” Buckley said. “TUD has been able to supply water to the air attack base, even in the recent drought conditions.”
The claim that stored water in New Melones could somehow benefit people with failing wells in Calaveras and Tuolumne counties does not appear to be connected to reality, Buckley said.
“Down there in New Melones, there’s no pipe that’s magically going to take the water to people with failing wells,” Buckley said. “Most of them are not even connected to TUD. That’s why they’re on wells.”
In addition, if TUD follows Tuolumne County’s lead and supports CCWD’s on this, the district is supporting and underscoring water rights that may one day be open to competition, Buckley said. TUD already has rights to some water in New Melones but cannot access it in reality because of low water levels.
“Of all the benefits listed, I don’t see any that truly benefits TUD,” Buckley said. “I’d be cautious about this proposal.”
And finally, before signing up to support CCWD’s effort to store water at New Melones, TUD officials should keep in mind there’s been significant turnover in the general manager position at Calaveras County Water District, with four different GMs in recent years. Another change in leadership could mean a different direction for the proposed storage in New Melones.
“I appreciate the passion. I really do,” Eggerton said after Buckley was done speaking. “I want to be clear. We’re asking for support for a contract for storage to benefit the region. The bottom line is we want to have access to some of that 2.4 million acre-feet in New Melones.
“When they built these reservoirs, there were certain guarantees made to local districts that we’d have access,” Eggerton said. “A lot of that water just flows through and is considered abandoned. It just flows to the Golden Gate.”
Calaveras County Water District serves 14,000 water connections and a population of about 31,000 people in several communities, including Forest Meadows, Arnold, Copperopolis, Copper Cove and the Highway 4 corridor, Eggerton said. The district does not serve Angels Camp, Murphys or San Andreas.
The district has rights to water in the Mokelumne, Calaveras and Stanislaus watersheds, Eggerton said.
Ron Berry, general manager for Tri-Dam Project, a joint venture between Oakdale Irrigation District and South San Joaquin Irrigation District that has two dams on the Middle Fork Stanislaus and one dam below New Melones, came to observe but did not speak Tuesday.
Afterward, Berry said, “Tri-Dam, we have no stance on this right now. Any time there’s anything discussed about New Melones, we want to listen.”
The Tuolumne Utilities District Board of Directors took no formal action on the discussion with Eggerton. The issue was listed on an agenda as “review only.”