Study says canal system 'efficient'

By: Joyia Emard, Loomis News Staff Writer
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Irrigation water in the Loomis Basin has always been a coveted resource, but a new study now shows that it’s also important to the local ecosystem. A three-year study, conducted by the Placer County Water Agency, has found that the canal system operates very efficiently while providing irrigation water to ranchers, growers and residents. The study also revealed that spillage at the canal ends and runoff from users support local fish, plant and animal life by creating wetlands and draining into small creeks. Those creeks eventually make their way into larger creeks that support salmon and steelhead. The East Loomis Basin Canal Efficiency Study was commissioned by the water agency and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers. According to Einar Maisch, director of strategic affairs for Placer County Water, the study was initially done in response to Pacific Gas and Electric’s licensing renewal. Maisch explained that Pacific Gas and Electric provides the water used in the canal system and there is a movement to reduce the amount of water taken from the rivers in order to protect fish. “The study was done with an eye toward what would we have to do if PG&E has to cut our supply,” Maisch said. “In order to answer that question we had to study the idea of piping the canal to provide a bookend of how much can you save, what is the dollar cost and the cost to the environment. We found the cost is too excessive both in dollars and environmentally.” Maisch added that “There is a whole ecosystem (created by the spillage and runoff), plants and fish in the creeks and wild animals.” As part of the study, a local task force was formed that included irrigation water customers Bill Tudsbury, Bob Hansen, Ken Mackey and Jim Struble. Other task force members were Marilyn Jasper, of the Sierra Club; Chris Paull, with Placer County Resource Conservation District; Janet Thew, Town of Loomis planning commissioner; and Gregg Bates, with Dry Creek Conservancy. Tudsbury, a fifth-generation Loomis resident, said he first got on the committee because he was “curious and very concerned.” His family used to have fruit orchards and he now grows mandarins. He felt that being on the committee was about “self preservation.” “More and more it’s (irrigation water) a valuable commodity,” he said. While he initially worried that the purpose of the study might be to cut water to customers, Tudsbury said the experience was “eye opening.” “I learned a ton about PCWA and the ditch system and the history,” he said. “I learned about the role the irrigation system plays in the environment. Spilled water creates wetlands and animal habitat.” Tudsbury and the task force members also learned that there is theft that occurs along the canals. Bob Hansen is a Loomis farmer who grows stone fruit, strawberries, mandarins, and other citrus on the family property. He said, “The amount of theft that occurs is small in comparison. I just think a lot of it is just ignorance by people who move out here and don’t understand how the canals work.” Maisch, of the water agency, said there are ditch-water users who pay for a certain amount of water and then tamper with their pipe outlets to allow more water to enter. The task force recommended that the water agency upgrade customer turnouts and start an “unauthorized diversion prevention program.” Maisch said the new outlets will be easier for customers to clean and will allow the agency to lock the outlets into place. He said there is no formal plan yet, but that their goal is to install 20 to 30 of the new outlets over the next year to test them. “Ideally, we would install them when we re-gunite the canals,” he said. According to the water agency literature, the canals were initially built to convey water from Sierra Nevada rivers and streams to the gold mines during the California Gold Rush. They then were used as irrigation canals for farming during the early 1900s. The agency now delivers water to more than 250,000 people.