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Another View: Even in a drought, selling some water makes sense

The American River flows through Auburn. Despite the drought, the Placer County Water Agency plans to sell some of its water from the river.
The American River flows through Auburn. Despite the drought, the Placer County Water Agency plans to sell some of its water from the river. rpench@sacbee.com

Managing California’s complex water storage and delivery system is a never-ending balancing act between supply, demand and environmental considerations, especially during a severe drought.

In 2000, most of the Sacramento region’s water agencies and environmental groups came together in the historic Water Forum Agreement that established a framework to provide a reliable water supply through 2030 and to preserve environmental resources of the lower American River. The Placer County Water Agency won support to build a pump station on the American River at Auburn, but that came with a requirement to release additional water from our reservoirs in dry years to help provide minimum flows for fish in the lower American River.

To fulfill our requirements under the agreement, we are preparing to release as much as 12,000 acre-feet of water this year. After the water leaves the American River, we will sell the water to the East Bay Municipal Utility District, which has dangerously low reservoirs (“Despite cutbacks, water sales in works,” Page 1A, May 14).

This water transfer comes amid a backdrop of orders from the governor and the State Water Resources Control Board to cut our water usage by 32 percent this year compared to 2013. Last year, our treated water customers cut their usage by 18 percent and irrigation water customers by 35 percent compared to 2013.

In addition to helping the environment and other communities, the transfer provides an estimated $6 million that will help offset increased operating costs and reduced revenue as customers cut their water use.

The agency is fortunate to have the French Meadows and Hell Hole reservoirs as part of its Middle Fork American River Project, which provides one-third the storage capacity of Folsom Reservoir and the capacity to both serve our customers and help the environment.

While it seems incongruous to release water for the benefit of the American River while asking our customers to conserve, it’s important to remember that without access to American River water, our customers would face far deeper cuts in water use, and potentially higher rates during this historic drought.

Einar L. Maisch is general manager of the Placer County Water Agency.

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