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Agency calls end to water shortage emergency

3,831 irrigation customers should see reductions on upcoming bills, director says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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The Placer County Water Agency has called an end to a water shortage emergency caused by an April 19 Bear River Canal break. The agency’s board Monday also approved reduced bills for irrigation customers who didn’t receive their full amount of summer irrigation water due to the break. According to PCWA, 3,831 irrigation water customers were affected by either rolling water outages or reduced orifices, or openings, at their canals. According to Joe Parker, director of financial services for the agency, PCWA expects a $120,000 to $150,000 total reduction in these customers’ bills for the billing cycle of April 16 to June 15. Matt Young, director of customer services for PCWA, said customers will receive bills with a line item that is expected to say Bear River Canal adjustment with the amount deducted from their bills next to it. “It will be pretty straightforward, easy for them to understand,” Young said. “We will be available to them to answer questions.” According to PCWA projections, on average irrigation customers from Alta to Applegate, Applegate to North Auburn and those in North Auburn received 74 percent of their allotted water during the billing cycle. Customers from the city of Auburn to Newcastle received about 75 percent of their water on average and customers in Newcastle down to Rocklin received 89 percent of their water on average. Parker said every customer’s bill adjustment is going to be a little bit different depending on what canal he or she is on and how much water was actually received. Young said Monday 7,000 acre feet of supplemental water is now available to Zone 5 customers in West Lincoln. As of Monday afternoon the Bear River Canal was back up to flows of 250 cubic feet per second. Kevin Goishi, a project manager with PG&E, said the company was bringing the Wise Powerhouse online Monday and the canal should be back to its usual 450 cfs flow “over the next day or two.” On Monday PCWA’s board voted 4-0 to discontinue the water shortage emergency declaration it adopted May 5. Director Ben Mavy was absent. The board also voted to accept PG&E’s offered financial assistance toward pumping costs and lost revenue due to adjusted customer bills without waiving consideration of other costs. Parker said the agency spent approximately $684,000 on seven pumps during the shortage. The agency also expects to owe $5,000 to the San Juan Water District for the water it gave PCWA. Joshua Huntsinger, Placer County agricultural commissioner/sealer of weights, praised PCWA for its efforts during the emergency. Huntsinger said the recent weather was a “real godsend” and that rice was the crop most affected by the shortage. Huntsinger said Placer County did not qualify for the United States Department of Agriculture’s emergency declaration, because it did not meet the 30 percent loss of one crop requirement, even with the rice that was not planted. Last week Huntsinger said about 2,000 acres of rice were not planted due to the shortage. Huntsinger also said the loss to Placer County agriculture was expected to be in the low millions rather than the $10 million that was originally anticipated. Huntsinger said overall the situation was not as dire as expected after the canal broke. “We are in a lot better shape than I thought we would be a month ago,” he said. Rick Gruen, district manager for the Placer County Resource Conservation District, said the emergency livestock watering delivery system the district created never had to be used, but it was a good way to be prepared for the future. “The bottom line is for the future if a drought was to occur … we do have the mechanism in place to reach out to the livestock owners to take care of their needs,” Gruen said. Auburn resident Bill Artery, who was without water for 18 days after the canal break, said Monday he was glad to hear the news about the canal and bill reductions. “I think that’s very positive for everybody,” Artery said. “I think that’s a wonderful thing. It looks like everything is going to be working for our benefit.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com