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County loses rights to water storage project

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Posted: Wednesday, March 21, 2007 10:00 pm

A state water agency has canceled a major San Joaquin County water project that experts say would help reduce the region's groundwater overdraft.

The staff of the State Water Resources Control Board, earlier this month, canceled the county's application to divert water from the Mokelumne River south to Duck Creek and build a dam there.

The state board cited the county's failure to produce an environmental document in a timely manner and to document the availability of Mokelumne River water unappropriated by the state.

The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors has the option to appeal the state's decision to the full Water Resources Control Board.

"It's too critical for San Joaquin County to let that water go," said Kevin Kauffman, general manager of the Stockton East Water District.

The board, acting as the Mokelumne Water and Power Authority, applied for a state permit in 1990 to divert up to 120,000 acre-feet from the Mokelumne River at either Camanche or Pardee reservoir, south to Duck Creek.

The idea was to use most of the water for storage at Duck Creek, a tributary of the Calaveras River, south of Highway 12 near the Calaveras County line, Kauffman said.

A majority of the water, collected only during years of heavy rain and snowfall, would be used to replenish the parched groundwater basin, although some of it could be used for municipal and industrial purposes, Kauffman said.

"We're maxed out on the Calaveras and Stanislaus rivers," said Mel Lytle, the county's water resources coordinator. "We will get some water from the Delta, but we need additional projects."

If the State Water Resources Control Board staff's decision to cancel San Joaquin County's application for the reservoir project stands, the county will lose a significant opportunity to replenish the groundwater basin in areas north and east of Lodi.
Lodi Public Works Director Richard Prima said that, while the Duck Creek project is critically needed, it won't affect the city of Lodi in the short term. The city could be affected in the long term, he said.
- News-Sentinel staff.

With last winter's heavy rainfall and snowpack, a reservoir at Duck Creek could have been filled twice, Lytle said.

The State Water Resources Control Board's cancellation of the county's application mirrors the state board's decision to rescind most of the North San Joaquin Water Conservation District's right to 20,000 acre-feet during wet years.

The North San Joaquin District hasn't had the equipment to pump more than 3,000 acre-feet of Mokelumne River water per year. The district will continue to have the right to pump the 3,000 acre-feet, plus another 1,000 acre-feet.

Northeastern San Joaquin County has a groundwater overdraft ranging from 130,000 to 200,000 acre-feet of water per year, according to Ed Steffani, manager of the North San Joaquin Water Conservation District.

Kauffman and Lodi Public Works Director Richard Prima said the State Water Resources Control Board's action conflicts with that of another state agency, the California Department of Water Resources.

DWR told water purveyors from throughout the state to work on a regional basis to solve local water problems rather than for a single city or water district to submit its own water proposal, local water experts said.

However, another state agency - the Water Resources Control Board staff - penalized San Joaquin County because the county failed to submit environmental documents on the Duck Creek project, Prima and Kauffman said. It takes a lot more time to work collaboratively with several agencies than for one agency to prepare a water project, Prima said.

The regional effort is being manifested in the form of the Mokelumne River Water Forum, where water agencies from San Joaquin, Calaveras and Amador counties, along with the East Bay Municipal Utility District, are working together to develop a water project that would benefit the three counties and the East Bay district.

EBMUD is involved because it has water rights to pipe Mokelumne River water to parts of Alameda and Contra Costa counties.

Ironically, the state awarded San Joaquin County $500,000 in Proposition 50 money to draw up the Duck Creek plans and complete environmental work, Lytle said. Additionally, President Bush signed a bill authorizing $3.3 million toward engineering studies for the Duck Creek project.

Prima and Kauffman admit that they hadn't done much to further the Duck Creek Reservoir project during the 1990s, although they have worked harder in the current decade.

However, Lytle said the county's inactivity in the 1990s was due to some extenuating circumstances, such as state hearings on the Delta and on Mokelumne River fish flows, which stopped work on county water development projects.

"Since Camanche (Dam) was built in the 1960s, nothing big has happened on water issues," said Gerald Schwartz, Central Valley liaison for EBMUD. "Maybe a pipeline here, a pipeline there, but nothing big."

Schwartz added that the state's cancellation of the Duck Creek application may be somewhat of a benefit because it will get water interests to be more creative and either resubmit the Duck Creek application or think of something else.

Contact reporter Ross Farrow at rossf@lodinews.com.

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