Water agency urges PG&E to act on canal fix as soon as possible

Plan for temporary and permanent construction should be ready May 10, PG&E says
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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The county water agency is expressing frustration at the lack of an immediate fix to a canal break that is estimated to cost Placer’s agricultural community at least $10 million in losses. In a letter from PCWA’s board chairman, Lowell Jarvis, Monday the agency expressed frustration with PG&E and demanded immediate action to in either a temporary supply or permanent fix to a Bear River Canal break that is impacting 150,000 of its water customers. “Unless PG&E can provide at least significant amounts of temporary water supplies within days, the damage to PCWA’s 150,000 water users, their property, their livelihoods, their businesses and their livestock will be dire if not catastrophic,” Jarvis said in the letter. About 4,000 of these customers are irrigation customers, some of which could experience outages as a result of the break, while others are scheduled to only receive half of their normal water supply. In a Tuesday meeting, one official said the loss of planting to 3,800 acres in Placer County would mean at least a $10 million hit to agriculture. PG&E says working seven days a week Paul Moreno, spokesman for PG&E, said the company is working as hard as it can, while still keeping the safety of its employees in mind, to make temporary and permanent repairs. “PG&E has been working on this seven days a week since the incident, and we are fully engaged and our senior management supports an expedited solution to get water flowing in the Bear River Canal,” Moreno said. “Even though the specific short-term and permanent alternatives have not been chosen, we have been engaged in active construction at the site since it occurred.” Moreno said six construction and development companies are working to lay rock on an access road, remove hazardous trees and widen a parking area for construction workers. PG&E crews and contractors are also continuing to map and survey the area. Moreno said PG&E has been talking to all state and federal agencies involved to express the need to expedite the permitting process. “So, we certainly have been keeping those boards informed of what needs to occur, but before we can make those bypass and permanent fixes we have to have full knowledge of the condition of the slide and other soil conditions,” Moreno said. “Going in there without that full detail is hazardous to workers and could cause whatever solution we put in to not work.” Moreno said the company is currently waiting on the results of geo-technical studies of the area’s ground. At Tuesday’s meeting Alvin Thoma, director of power generation for PG&E, said by PCWA’s May 10 public hearing PG&E will have a plan for the temporary and permanent construction of the canal. What will happen to rates? In the meantime it’s still unknown how costs will impact ratepayers. According to Matt Young, customer services director for PCWA, the agency pays $550,000 per year to buy water from PG&E. Since the break, they are now paying $1 million a month to pump 75 cfs from the American River as well as using water from the city of Roseville and San Juan Water District to add to water supplies in lower Zone 3 and make up for the shortage. Lowell Jarvis, chairman of PCWA’s board of directors, said Tuesday the board has not yet considered possible rate increases to make up for the agency’s higher expense. “I think we heard Dave Breninger say today the first thing we need to do is get the water flowing again … and then as the financial picture becomes clearer we will figure out what we need to do to balance our budget,” Jarvis said. A$10 million loss At Tuesday’s meeting Rui Cunha, program manager for Placer County Office of Emergency Services, said Placer County is already in a state of emergency because of the propane explosions in Serene Lakes, and it might be possible to add the water shortage to that. Cunha said if the agency were to give them some numbers that express the scope and scale of damages and all public costs, it might be possible to extend the emergency declaration with the state. Cunha said he was told some preliminary numbers include 3,800 acres that may not go to plant this season as well as an initial estimate of $10 million in agricultural losses. PCWA Director Gray Allen said $10 million is just the beginning because so much of the community, including businesses, is reliant on that agriculture. Outages to date Dave Breninger, general manager of PCWA, said Tuesday no PCWA treated water customers would experience a difference in service, because they are not included in the alternating outage schedule. However, all treated water customers are being asked to conserve to make more water available for irrigation customers. PCWA’s Zone 3, which runs from Alta down to Applegate, is a major focus of conservation. Mike Nichol, director of field services for PCWA, said if one or two cubic feet of water per second can be spared from Zone 3, it would help customers in upper Zone 1, which includes the Greater Auburn area down to Newcastle. Irrigation customers in upper Zone 1 from Applegate to North Auburn are currently on half of the water supply they receive normally, Breninger said. Currently from the city of Auburn down to Newcastle irrigation water customers are experiencing 24-hour alternating outages, Nichol said. Customers in Zone 3 south of Newcastle are scheduled to start experiencing 24-hour outages beginning Thursday. At Tuesday’s meeting Breninger said the agency plans to put more specific details about the outages including what days canals are out on its website at Breninger said some frequently asked questions with answers will also be available on PCWA’s website soon. Reach Bridget Jones at ------------------------------------------------------- Upcoming PCWA meetings At 5:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday the agency is hosting public meetings to address community questions and concerns. The 5:30 p.m. Thursday meeting is following the board of directors’ regular 2 p.m. meeting. The meetings are scheduled to be held at the agency’s headquarters at 144 Ferguson Road in Auburn. On May 10 the agency is holding a public hearing to declare a state of emergency. At 5:30 p.m. the meeting will begin at Auburn’s Holiday Inn on Grass Valley Highway and then adjourn to Placer Hall at the Gold Country Fairgrounds. If you are a PCWA or Nevada Irrigation District customer with little or no irrigation water, the Journal wants to hear from you. Contact reporter Bridget Jones at (530) 852-0235 or e-mail ------------------------------------------------------- What areas are experiencing 24-hour irrigation water outages? Irrigation customers from the city of Auburn down to Newcastle are currently experiencing 24-hour rotating water outages. As the situation continues this area could suffer the most in terms of outages, with the possibility of customers eventually only having water every three days, according to Mike Nichol, director of field services for PCWA. Beginning Thursday 24-hour outages are expected for the area south of Newcastle including Penryn and Loomis. Is there a specific schedule of outages? Not yet. Dave Breninger, general manager of Placer County Water Agency, said the agency is going to be putting more specific information concerning outages on the PCWA website at soon. Is the risk of fire a concern in the Auburn area with less water available? No, according to Auburn Fire Chief Mark D’Ambrogi. D’Ambrogi said he is more concerned about the grasses in empty lots that go unattended than about dry lawns or pastures. D’Ambrogi said he has been assured by PCWA that Auburn Fire will continue to have the water it needs. “They assured us they will always have water for fire – that’s not going to be a big issue,” D’Ambrogi said. Cal Fire Unit Chief Brad Harris, unit chief for Placer, Nevada and Yuba counties, said the agency depends on irrigated pastures to act as natural fuel breaks, so the shortage is a concern. “It is something from a fire service perspective we have got to resolve,” Harris said. What areas are completely without water now? Zone 5, which includes nine active PCWA commercial agriculture customer accounts. Names were not available as of press time Tuesday. The area is west of Lincoln. Mike Nichol, director of field services for PCWA, said there is not enough water to get to the area from the Ophir Pump Station, which is 16 miles away. The area usually uses 70 cubic square feet of water and levels are currently down to 23.6 cfs. Nichol said there is normally a 24.5 percent loss of water in between the pump station and Zone 5 when water is running normally, so there is currently no reliable water getting to the site. How many Nevada Irrigation District customers are affected and where? About 800 Nevada Irrigation District irrigation customers are affected by the break, which includes the company’s western Placer County customers. Nevada County customers are not affected. Ron Nelson, general manager of NID, said customers could be experiencing a 50 percent cutback in water as well as revolving outages. Outages and a cutback in supply could begin in the Auburn Ravine and Coon Creek areas of Auburn later this week or next week. “Both those areas are going to be experiencing both cutbacks in overall supply and some sort of rolling outages,” Nelson said. “That is what we are starting with. If this is extended and conditions require it, we may have to take some other measures to make the supplies go.” NID customers with questions can call (800) 222-4102 or visit the company’s website at Are treated water customers affected by the outages? No. Dave Breninger, general manager of PCWA, said outages are not planned for treated water customers, but the agency is asking for voluntary conservation of water. Nelson said NID treated water customers would also not be affected.