Opinion: El Dorado County WATER according to Former County Supervisor Ron Briggs

by Placerville Newswire / Aug 03, 2016 / comments

Preface – I believe obtaining new water in our county is a priority and duty of our board of supervisors!

By Ron Briggs: I am pretty certain my numbers below are accurate, so too dates. That said I may be off a year or so and a dollar or two… in other words the following should give the reader clarity and knowledge.

In the beginning circa 1917 El Dorado County retained its “county of origin” designation in a time where other counties and water users relinquished theirs to the state.

In the water world, he possess early dates are superior to those who don’t. By way of example the San Juan Water District boasts their earliest most superior (save El Dorado) water rights date circa 1987.
Currently EID (county’s largest purveyor of water) uses water from Sly Park (thank you John Doolittle!!!) and draws about 6,000 acre feet(af) from Folsom Lake.

Fast forward 2004-06 Jack Sweeney saw an opportunity in SMUD’s 50 year re-licensing from Federal Energy Regulatory Commissions (FERC). Jack assembled the West Slopes purveyors together – EID, Georgetown and Pioneer and they created the El Dorado County Water and Power Joint Power Authority (EDWPA). Its primary purpose was to pursue new water sources using the power of the “area of origin” designation.

The first problem was location of a new dam. Okay you can stop laughing.

Jack thought EDWPA could muscle itself into the SMUDs re-licensing and convinced them their application would be better off with county support than county opposition. The SMUD agreement was borne dealing with issues such as: allowing a measured water supply so outfitters along American River know a sufficient flow through the summer months; future Iowa Hill: mitigation payments from Iowa Hill and the Golden Goose….. SMUD agreed to allow EDWPA to store up to 40,000 af in any of their upper American River facilities such as Loon Lake, Union Valley etcetera and at no cost, ever. That, ladies and gentlemen is a grand slam.

EDWPA funding is as follows: County general fund 33%; County water agency 33%; EID 33%. The nuance here is the county funds nearly 65% of the Water Agency so county taxpayers is funding the vast bulk of all EDWPA cost.

EDWPA in 2008-09 submitted an application with the state seeking 40,000 af of new water costing EDWPA about $2million. This application was met violently by nearly every single water purveyor and federal agencies, thus we pissed away $2m primarily because we followed advice from our consultant.

Concurrently, and separately, I was working with the US Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) on resolving the Cameron Park located “Pine Hill Preserve” issue. I spent 7 years on this matter and developed substantial working relationships with environmental groups, the Service as well as State Fish and Game (Dept). I could write a book on how not to work with the feds and state from this experience.

EDWPA regrouped itself and hired Downey Brand law firm primarily due to their representation of almost everyone who opposed us previously. We felt it better to go in with application that wouldn’t waste another $4million. 

Whenever a purveyor seeks new water they must prepare a “needs” assessment for use of the water meaning a general plan that supports the requested amount. New water allocations must be for consumptive use meaning new water cannot be used for agriculture or commercial. New water is for housing, period.

Months after being sent away to hunt for a solution Downey Brand came back with a proposal for obtaining 40,000af and wiping away the majority if not all competing purveyors. The Service was a whole different problem.

I am 99.99% certain the terms of the proposal was discussed in open session mid 2013 because the funding element forced EDWPA to cite its request for monies and the Board of Supervisors needed to do the same. Based on this memory here is the basic proposal without specifically naming purveyors.

The basic proposal in distributing the 40,000af looked like this in 2013… it could have changed by now but I doubt it. 
Four Sacramento water purveyors each receive 5,000 af or 20,000af
The Bureau of Reclamation receives 10,000 af for ground water recharge
El Dorado County receives 5,000 af under specific needs IE drought protection
Damned if I can remember who got the last 5,000af – it could be for a fifth Sacramento purveyor

Under the proposal El Dorado would be allowed to charge a market fee for the 25,000af and this is not an insignificant revenue stream. At the time the market rate was around $300 @ af. There are other provisions allowing El Dorado to take more water when certain benchmarks occur.

Remember the “needs” assessment. El Dorado has a bit of a problem in demonstrating the need for 5,000 af.

And remember my working relationship with the Service. They intimated that unless we have a Pine Hill agreement they would issue a bad Biological Opinion (BO). This was not a threat at all in fact they were helping me by giving me a heads up.
Even with a Pine Hill agreement the Service could still issue a bad BO. One of their concerns was wildlife movement throughout the county. AKT had donated about 8,000 acres along Sacramento El Dorado county line insuring movement from the south, and Parker agreed to review their Marble Valley plans (only a review with no promises) then using Bass Lake underpass and a new vault under the freeway there was a method to move the wildlife safely into the American River Canyon and up the hill.

I explained this to my colleagues and we agreed to place “Option A” in the county’s Integrated Natural Resource Management Plan (INRMP). Option A would study corridors and cost of managing same. I believe the vote was 5-0 but that thing masquerading as a supervisor could’ve voted no.

Supervisor Veerkamp and I met on several occasions with environmental groups to discuss Option A and if there truly was a desire to replace canopies with corridors and management… their answer was a resounding “YES”.

In addition to assisting our application for new water, Option A was the first step toward the elimination of the suffocating Oak Woodlands Management Plan (OWMP). Instead of a one to one replacement of oak trees while county canopy coverage…. the county would establish corridors and collect fees for their management and as simple as that we get rid of the OWMP. YEAH!!!!

So, now we have a method to capture 5,000 af of water for our intra county use and we’ve created a new revenue stream from the sale of water to other purveyors. All we had to do is appropriate about $5million to cover the cost of the application and follow through with our commitment to corridors and management as outlined in Option A of the INRMP.

Just two months ahead of being termed out a Pine Hill strategy was approved by the Board and ratified by both the Dept and Service. A win for all!

Subsequently, the Board approved $800,000 for its first installment for water rights application and we are on our way.

Who here wants to guess what the Board did two months after I left?

Never mind I’ll tell you.

They threw out Option A. talk about pissing all the time and taxpayers money down the drain.

So yes, despite all the time I took before I left to explain in detail to the two new board members the Pine Hill Preserve and how corridors and management work and their intrarelationship as well as its importance in our water rights application and the major step corridors and management took in relieving the county from the OWMP. And for the record, Supervisor Veerkamp sat in on all these meetings in a two year period nodding his head like a bobble head in the back of a car.

There is no path for EDWPA to successfully obtain new water rights. My opinion, there is no reason to spend one more taxpayer dollar without addressing the huge gap Option A left in the INRMP.

EDWPA could get all the support from every entity in the state but a bad BO is a game changer/ender.

I do not understand the board’s short sighted foolish actions. We had a well laid out achievable plan of action benefitting all. But much like their restoration of elected officials annually adjusted compounded bonus pay scheme costing the county $150,000 + 20% each year, maybe they are following that thing acting like a supervisor by looking in their respective mirrors to see the only person who truly supports them.
 

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Ron Briggs