PG&E: Bear River Canal back to normal by early next week

2,000 acres of rice not planted due to water shortage, commissioner says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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PG&E said Thursday afternoon full flows in the Bear River Canal are expected to be up by early next week after an April 19 canal break near Colfax High School. The company also cemented its offer Thursday to help the Placer County Water Agency and Nevada Irrigation District financially with up to $1.8 million in reimbursements. Estimates of loss to the county’s agricultural community were also announced Thursday to be lower than initially expected. The Placer County agricultural commissioner said growers could have taken a financial hit in the low millions of dollars. Alvin Thoma, director of power generation for PG&E, said Thursday at a PCWA board meeting that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission had given its approvals for full flows of about 450 cubic feet per second of water to be returned to the canal. Thoma said PG&E planned to begin filling the canal Friday with flows returning to normal by Monday or Tuesday. Over the weekend PG&E plans to inspect the entire length of the 22-mile canal as partial flows begin, Thoma said. On Thursday PG&E sent a letter to Lowell Jarvis, chairman of the PCWA board, pledging up to $1.8 million to PCWA and NID for costs incurred during the water shortage. In the letter Mike Jones, power generation lead for PG&E, said for PCWA this will mean helping to offset pumping costs at seven locations including the American River, Ophir, Rock Creek Reservoir, Stoneridge Road and Tinker Road. Jones said PG&E is also reimbursing PCWA for lost revenue as some customers are billed for smaller amounts because they didn’t receive their full amounts of water. Thoma said Thursday the actual amount given to both water agencies is expected to come in well below the $1.8 million cap. Dave Breninger, general manager of PCWA, said with the news about the FERC approvals, those involved in the process seem to be “on the cusp of a very successful situation.” Breninger said PCWA is now looking at adjusting the bills of customers who didn’t receive their full amount of summer irrigation water, either because of resized orifices, or openings, at their canals or rotating water outages. “I have had my team carefully analyzing that to find out what customers may have been without water and for how long, and how we can address that with an adjustment,” Breninger said. The adjusted bills are expected to go out in mid-June and include the duration of the water crisis, Breninger said. Mike Nichol, director of field services for PCWA, said crews began resizing orifices for summer supplies Thursday morning, and staff was exploring what water would be available to Zone 5 customers west of Lincoln. “We need to bring a resolution back to the board shortly for reinstituting water, making water available again to our Zone 5 customers,” Nichol said. PCWA director Alex Ferreira, who lives in Zone 5, said it’s already too late for some of the agricultural customers in the area to reap the benefits of any returned water. “In Zone 5 it’s too late to plant rice,” Ferreira said. Ferreira said for those who did plant for the season, the return of irrigation water will be cheaper than pumping well water to crops. Joshua Huntsinger, agricultural commissioner/sealer of weights for Placer County, said Thursday an average of 15,000 acres of rice is grown in Placer County. Huntsinger said he was very excited about how quickly PG&E had finished work on the canal. Huntsinger said the financial impact to growers in Placer County could be a low seven-figure number, but said it’s too early to release an exact amount. That is a drop from an initial estimate of $10 million in agricultural losses when news of the break was first announced. “Rice is the big (crop to take a hit) down in West Lincoln, and probably somewhere in the neighborhood of about 2,000 acres of rice was not planted at all. The other impact would be that a lot of crops were still planted and are still growing, but a lot of people switched from this irrigation water to well water. And so they incurred a lot of expenses with the pumping. Even though they were able to continue to farm and produce a crop, they did incur higher expenses.” Carol Scheiber, a cattle rancher in Zone 5, said she is happy about the completion of the canal construction and the wet weather growers have been experiencing. “I think it’s great because that’s going to help everybody out who really needs it,” Scheiber said. “I don’t know about Zone 5, but there should be plenty of water for everybody else who has had to share and whatnot, and I’m just glad it’s going to be finished earlier.” Scheiber said she hasn’t heard so far about whether or not she will be getting water again. “I’m not sure I’ll get any,” she said. “I haven’t heard anything different at this point. We are still planning on not having water until I hear officially otherwise.” The board adjourned its meeting until 2 p.m. Monday at the PCWA offices, where it will continue to discuss billing adjustments and possibly passing a resolution to end the water shortage emergency it previously declared, Breninger said. Reach Bridget Jones at ---------------------------------------------------- Bear River Canal fix by the numbers Six-and-a-half: Number of weeks from the break of the Bear River Canal to the completion of construction 3.3 million gallons: Amount of water trucked from Rollins Reservoir to PCWA locations 2,200 yards: Amount of concrete poured during canal construction About 4,800: Irrigation customers affected by break Up to $1.8 million: Amount pledged to PCWA and NID by PG&E for costs incurred