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Bear River canal break to affect 4,800 customers

By: Bridget Jones, Gold Country News Service
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By Bridget Jones gold country news service Local agencies are doing what they can to get full water service back to customers after a landslide caused a break in the Bear River Canal just outside of Colfax Tuesday morning. The break is expected to affect 4,800 Placer County Water Agency and Nevada Irrigation District customers who use irrigation or ditch water. However, the break will not affect treated water used in the customers’ homes, representatives from both water agencies have said. PG&E representatives were still looking for answers about the cause of the break on Wednesday. “We are still investigating the cause of the slide as well as evaluating the repair plans,” said Paul Moreno, spokesman for PG&E. “We are continuing to make on-site evaluations as well as office type planning, such as using satellite images, and typography maps and other research available. It is a considerable landslide, so it will require (more) engineering than a small landslide would.” Moreno said PG&E continues to work with the Placer County Water Agency and the Nevada Irrigation District to keep the companies updated and do what it can to help make up for the loss of water from the canal. Matt Young, deputy director of customer services for PCWA, said the company is already developing a plan for alternating outages for its customers. Young said one group of customers will receive water for 24 hours and the next day another group will receive water. The plan will be posted on the agency’s home page, Young said. PCWA is currently pumping water from the American River at 90 cubic feet per second to help make up for the shortage, Young continued. Moreno said although the canal generates hydro-electric power, the break is not affecting PG&E customers, because the power created by the canal is fed into a larger transmission system, which in turn serves distribution level power lines that go out to customers. Dave Breninger, general manager of PCWA, said PG&E notified the water company of the break Tuesday morning. Breninger said the break occurred in an area near Colfax High School. “We understand that the side of the bottom of the canal blew out,” Breninger said. “Obviously then that spilled all the water out of the canal and ceased to send the water further downstream to where PCWA would have the water … taken to our water plants.” Moreno said the canal provides water to PCWA customers as well as customers in the Nevada Irrigation District. Moreno said at 1:20 Tuesday morning the first alarm that water levels were low sounded. By 4:30 a.m. water flow was cut off in the canal and by 5:45 a.m. PG&E crews discovered the break. “The break occurred early this morning … in a remote canyon near Colfax,” Moreno said. “A slide occurred below a portion of PG&E’s Bear River Canal causing a portion of it to break and divert water from the canal down the steep hill to the Bear River. PG&E is investigating the cause of the slide.” The canal was investigated April 1 and no issues were discovered, but heavy rain could have contributed to the slide, Moreno said. The impact area is in service zone 1 and runs along the Auburn Folsom corridor, along the Highway 193 corridor and into the Loomis Basin and Rocklin, Breninger said. “We are hoping that for the treated water customers, and I believe we have about 35,000 of them, that we will be able to sustain our treated drinking water supplies unabated,” he said. “However, we would ask people to use water efficiency practices so we can all share together in having adequate water for everybody during this emergency.” Breninger said PG&E has informed them that it could take four to eight weeks to fully restore service to the canal. Moreno said the exact date of complete repairs is not known at this point. “We need to engineer the repair work and get permit approvals from state and federal agencies,” he said. “We are expediting this process to resume water deliveries as soon as possible.” Breninger said the company has plans to use methods to conserve water until the canal is repaired, including alternating days of water being available to customers. “We are working on a rotating system now, which frankly is not too different from what we would do when we have a planned regular outage along our canal system,” he said. Ron Nelson, general manager of the Nevada Irrigation District, said about 800 of the company’s irrigation customers could be affected. “That is the range we are looking at right now,” Nelson said. “It’s unlikely it will affect any of our treated water customers.” Nelson said NID is going to continue to meet with PCWA to decide what its options are. For news on the situation and a map of the affected area visit pcwa.net, which will be updated as the situation continues. Anyone with questions or concerns can call the agency at (530) 823-4850. Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com