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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 water shortage.

This system leads to complex delivery agreements that provide benefits as well as obligations to all involved. These detailed agreements generally receive little attention from the public until times like these.  

The Placer County Water Agency normally gets water for its customers from reservoirs operated by PG&E in the Yuba River watershed. This year’s supply from that source will be well below normal.  

To augment our Yuba River supply this year, PCWA will maximize its pumping of American River water as well as utilize groundwater wells in western Placer to help meet our customers’ needs. Still, these combined sources will not be enough to alleviate shortages.  We will need our customers’ help to conserve water so we all make it through this drought. 

American River

PCWA’s ability to utilize American River water comes with stewardship commitments.  One of those commitments led to the Agency’s decision to sell 20,000 acre-feet of water to East Bay Municipal Utility District, consistent with Sacramento-area Water Forum Agreement signed in 2000. 

Under terms of this Agreement, the Agency was allowed to build the American River Pump Station.  The Pump Station regularly provides the Agency’s customers with water in dry years and has proven critically important during past emergencies such as the Bear River Canal failure in 2011. 

While the construction of the Agency’s pump station greatly increased our capability to use American River water, it cannot completely alleviate the current shortages from the Yuba River system.

In exchange for the right to pump water out of the American River, PCWA committed in the Water Forum Agreement that under certain conditions during dry years, we would release water to the American River from our reservoirs to help sustain water flows in the lower American River. Our stewardship commitment to release additional water is contingent on the Agency finding a buyer that can use the water after it has benefited the lower American River.

With this year’s drought, the lower American River – that area downstream from Folsom Lake running to the Sacramento River – is in need of that additional water.

 So the Agency intends to honor its commitment under the Water Forum Agreement and provide additional flow. And, because we are part of the Water Forum Agreement, the water is able to be purchased and used by the East Bay Municipal Utility District. Depending on the volume of American River water used by the Agency’s customers this year, additional transfers may be needed to complete our stewardship commitment. Even after these releases, the Agency will maintain adequate storage levels in our reservoirs. 

This partnership between PCWA and the East Bay Municipal Utility District is one example of how two water agencies can work together to use available resources to maximize the beneficial use of water. 

David A. Breninger is General Manager of the Placer County Water Agency.