PG&E hopes for permanent canal fix by weekend

Wet weather has been helpful, officials and customer say
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Construction on the Bear River Canal could be finished this week after a huge chunk broke and water rushed down a muddy mountain side April 19, cutting water to about 4,800 irrigation customers. PG&E, the Placer County Water Agency and irrigation water customers said they have been grateful for the wet weather to help them get by with significantly less water flowing to customers. According to Steve Bennett, operations manager for PG&E, the company is hoping to finish final construction on the broken portion of the canal by Friday and could have it up to full flow by Sunday pending final approvals from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. On May 27 PG&E began running water through a temporary bypass, which is currently flowing 50 cubic feet per second of water into the Bear River Canal, according to Bennett. The canal normally holds about 450 cfs. Dave Breninger, general manager for PCWA, said the temporary bypass has been a helpful part of the process of getting water back to customers. “I think the temporary bypass, as well as this wonderful weather mixed in with the customers’ understanding with our need to have water reductions, has all worked very nicely to get us through this crisis,” Breninger said. The bypass, as well as the rain, have brought normal flows to the canal systems and the agency has been able to discontinue the rotating outages it had in place. Some customers in Service Zone 1 and Zone 3 will still be on reduced orifices, or openings, at their canals until the Bear River Canal’s flow is returned to normal, Breninger said. Denny Boyles, spokesman for PG&E said the company is no longer running water trucks from Rollins Reservoir to PCWA distribution sites, because the water supplied through trucking was only about 10 percent of the water provided through the bypass. On Wednesday PG&E hosted a media tour at the site of the April 19 canal break. The site was completely different from the way it looked on the May 6 media visit. The base of the canal, which runs down the side of the hill under the area where the break occurred, was completely finished. The walls of the canal were also formed. Contractors were using grouting anchors to tie the canal base into the hill’s bedrock. About 2,200 yards of concrete were poured for the base and canal walls, according to Bennett. The weather hasn’t hindered construction, but has actually been a positive part of the process, Bennett said. “This weather is doing nothing but help right now,” he said. “It’s really been beneficial due to the decreased water demand. It really hasn’t hampered construction. The day it snowed we didn’t stop, we didn’t curtail.” Bennett said a PG&E representative has been personally communicating with nearby property owners and meeting them out at the site. The company has tried to be as unobtrusive as possible during construction, Bennett said. “One thing we have really put high priority on is not creating dust,” he said. “Our mantra is if you see dust behind you (as you are driving down the road to the site), you are going too fast.” Both Boyles and Bennett said PG&E hopes to leave the area in better condition than they found it in after construction is completed. “We will essentially work our way out,” Boyles said. “Even after the canal is operational we will still have quite a bit of work to do in terms of planting. We will do some planting. I don’t think we have reached the point of knowing what that will be yet.” Boyles said construction has moved at a quicker rate than the company expected at the beginning of the planning stage. “At that point we had built construction schedules, and every factor of construction had a timeframe of one day to five days,” he said. “We were really fortunate it fell below that schedule.” Bennett said a number of repairs have been made to other parts of the canal during construction. “They were nothing like this,” he said. “They were maybe some cracks that needed to be patched.” Lara Hawthorne, owner of Sierra View Nursery in Loomis, thought she might have to close her doors when the canal first broke, but said now she won’t have to because of the bypass and the weather. “I’m excited to have it online,” Hawthorne said. “I’m still consolidating material and stuff, because it’s not over until it’s over, but it looks like really we are through it. It’s supposed to be cool and mild through the next week. I don’t understand it, but I’ll take it.” Reach Bridget Jones at ----------------------------------------------------- PCWA meeting What: PCWA board meeting discussing potential customer reimbursements When: 2 p.m. Thursday Where: PCWA Business Center, American River Room, 144 Ferguson Road, Auburn