Placer claims success in water-supply protection effort

FERQ relicensing development on Yuba River seen as threat
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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AUBURN CA - Placer County Water Agency officials are expressing confidence that efforts this month on Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing on the Bear and Yuba rivers have helped protect Placer County Water supplies. Earlier this month, the Water Agency acted on what it perceived as a serious threat caused by proposed changes in Yuba River flows that officials said would negatively impact the amount of water available to Placer County water users. The agency scrambled to work in partnership with Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and Nevada Irrigation District – who are both in relicensing efforts and have interconnected relationships on the Bear and Yuba River watersheds – to revise Forest Service flow levels on the Yuba River. At stake, Strategic Affairs Director Einar Maisch said earlier this week, were future water supplies – particularly during years when less snow-melt was available for storage in upstream reservoirs. The water agency was defending water supplies that originate from the Yuba and Bear River watersheds because it receives up to 125,400 acre-feet of water from those sources each year. It’s delivered via PG&E water systems in a complex routing and storage system that takes advantage of facilities and licenses owned by all three entities. “It appears our team has successfully reached agreement with the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management on revisions to draft mandatory terms and conditions that will protect all of the species in the Yuba Bear River watersheds while at the same time ensure continued reliable water supplies to water agency customers,” Maisch said. The Forest Service agreed to revisions in terms and conditions it had filed July 30. The water agency’s contention was that flow and releases benefited trout but increased water and lower stream temperatures in the plan – if they were included in the relicensing agreement – would have a negative impact on yellow-legged frog. The frog is a warm-water species that lives in low-water levels. The frog is also listed federally as a “species of concern.” Trout, on the other hand, are not approaching threatened or endangered status, Maisch said. While the Forest Service language was questioned on flow levels and impact on a frog species, Maisch said that the agency has been advocating for changes to ensure adequate water is available to customers in low-water years. The agency’s hydrology numbers show that in the past 100 years, there was only one – in the drought year of 1977 – when it didn’t receive its full supply. Under scenarios that had been advanced during the relicensing process, those events were being forecast one or two years out of every future decade, Maisch said. Water agency estimates were that up to 20,000 acre-feet or more of water a year could be taken from the agency. Eli Elano, Tahoe National Forest deputy forest service supervisor, said that the changes will be filed by the end of the month on a complex relicensing project that takes in 38 reservoirs, 43 different streams and 16 powerhouses. The effort has been ongoing for five years, he said. “We’re trying to balance power generation, water supply, cold-water habitat and warm-water habitat,” Elano said. “It means balancing 43 minimum stream flows for each months for six different water-year types.” The water agency took part in a 30-day window for discussion before the Forest Service filing was due with FERC, he said. “I think we finally got there, as of a couple of days ago,” Elano said. If the agreement had not been reached, the water agency had the option of filling an alternate condition and show that it would better meet the objectives of relicensing. The other option was to file a request for an evidentiary hearing, which would have challenged the federal filing on a factual basis. All parties involved in relicensing still have until Aug. 31 to file alternative conditions or a request for a hearing. FERC goals are to complete relicensing in 2013 with both the Nevada Irrigation District and Pacific Gas & Electric. Illustrative of the serious nature of this month’s talks, the Placer water agency board authorized $500,000 for consulting and legal services to protect the Yuba River water supply. Chris Shutes, FERC project director for the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, said that the water agency and Forest Service directly involved his group in the process. “Overall, we were OK with the outcome of the water agency issues,” Shutes said.