Looking to build more flexibility into an existing water right permit, the El Dorado Irrigation District Board of Directors at its Monday meeting approved spending $470,890 to hire a firm to conduct a hydrologic study that will allow it to add more water diversion points in the district’s Project 184 reservoirs and the South Fork of the American River.

Included is a contract for $395,890 with the consulting firm Zanjero to perform the hydrologic study, $50,000 for capitalized labor and $25,000 for specialized legal services.

The hydrologic study will be used to support a change petition to the State Water Resources Control Board and the related CEQA environmental review process to add more diversions of the 17,000 acre-feet of water EID annually has the right to.

Currently EID can only take that water from Folsom Reservoir.

The additional diversion points will allow EID to not only use the water from Folsom but to divert the water further east of El Dorado Hills without the expense of pumping it uphill. Instead the water could be taken from the district’s existing El Dorado Diversion Dam near Kyburz and at SMUD’s White Rock Powerhouse Penstock north of Placerville near Chili Bar or at SMUD’s Slab Creek Reservoir.

The district also wants to add a point of re-diversion from the El Dorado Diversion Dam to allow for storage of permitted water in Jenkinson Lake.

EID directors think additional diversion points will increase reliability of the district’s water supply by allowing for its flexible use throughout the entire service area.

Staff emphasized in a presentation that EID was not seeking additional water supplies, just the right to divert water further upstream that the district already has the right to.

It could take 20 years to bring the project to fruition between the time needed to get through the state permitting process and to build whatever infrastructure is needed for water transmission and treatment, according to the staff report.

Staff noted 1,200 comments were received after the notice of preparation was released. Most comments were identical form letters with most coming from members of the whitewater boating community that is concerned about how the project might affect conditions on the South Fork of the American River.

In response to those concerns Brian Deason, an Environmental Resources Supervisor with EID, explained the hydrologic study will forecast future conditions based on five different scenarios that take into account how the project would impact the hydrology, biological resources, recreation uses and power generation in the area.

Director Pat Dwyer called the study essential to the future of the district given the fragility of the system. 

During the public comment portion of the meeting three people called in to support the study. Jonas Minton, with the Planning and Conservation League, said the project would enhance the use of EID’s water resources.

Theresa Simsiman, California stewardship director at American Whitewater, said she favored the study.

Tom Cumpston, EID’s former general counsel, also lent his support, saying Zanjero had years of experience in conducting similar studies.

A second item only peripherally related to the project and approved by the board was a resolution appointing General Counsel Brian Poulsen and Operations Director Daniel Corcoran as contract negotiators to convert an existing contract for up to 7,550 acre-feet of water a year from Folsom Reservoir to an indefinite term. The current contract was last renewed in 2006 for 40 years.

The board also unanimously voted to adopt a mitigated negative declaration for the replacement of Flume 30. Staff said the flume, which is located east of Pollock Pines, was last replaced by PG&E in the 1990s. It’s now part of the Project 184 canal system which was transferred to EID in 1999.

Work on the flume will consist of replacing approximately 350 feet of the upstream and downstream sections of the wooden flume with concrete supported by a new retaining wall. A precast concrete flume will also be installed to span Bull Creek and a new road will be constructed to allow access to the canal. Project construction is expected to take approximately 5 to 6 months beginning in September 2021.

The board approved extending a contract with Hudson Henderson & Company, Inc. for one additional year to perform the fiscal year 2020 financial audit at a cost of $38,705. Staff explained that normally the district goes out to bid every three years for auditing services unless there are extenuating circumstances. Due to COVID-19 related difficulties, staff recommended the district stay with the existing firm another year.

EID Finance Director Mark Price provided an update on the district’s efforts to market, price and refund portions of the district’s current bond debt. He reported that by the end of July, EID’s finance team staff had refinanced $64.5 million in outstanding bonds, saving an estimated $5.1 million in interest.

Price suggested the savings could be used to cover lower-than-expected hydroelectric generation revenue in the future, the increasing cost of repairing and recoating district water tanks and to cover other emergency costs. Dwyer suggested the board should decide how the savings would be used.

Price was also asked to provide the board with information on the agency’s current level of debt and how much interest is being paid on that debt. As of the end of July, total debt was $361 million with interest rates varying. Price concluded his presentation by saying he might return with more recommendations for refinancing depending on market conditions.

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