In a May 18th op-ed in the Sacramento Bee Even in a drought, selling some water makes sense, Einar Maisch, General Manager of the Placer County Water Agency (PCWA) argued his agency was merely fulfilling their environmental duty to release 12,000 acre feet of water into the American River so it can be sold to the Bay Area. As reported in the Sacramento Bee (Despite cutbacks, Sacramento Valley ponders big water sale in drought), PCWA will sell 12,000 acre feet of water to the East Bay Municipal Water District (EBMUD) at $500 per acre foot. This will result in revenues of $6 million for PCWA. This sale occurs at a time when Placer County communities are mandating twice a week landscape watering and fines for excessive water use in the face of an ongoing drought. (New Water Restrictions In Roseville)
Placer County conserves for East Bay Area businesses
Maisch has wrapped PCWA in an environmental mantle in an effort to rationalize the water sale. While providing water flows in the lower American River is a nice public relations spin, it doesn’t address the windfall revenue PCWA will receive from the sale of the water. Placer County residents should be given first right of refusal to use the water that originates in the county before it is sold to EBMUD. Alternatively, the proceeds from the sale of the water should be used to compensate residential consumers for either the lost landscaping because of the water restrictions, reimbursement for removing turf grass or other water conserving appliances.
Can we sell water when there is a declared water shortage emergency?
PCWA declared a water shortage emergency with Resolution 15-10 in April. As with many water districts PCWA consumers must conserve 25% as mandated by the State Water Resources Control Board and are subject to rotating irrigation canal outages for customers who are served with ditch water. In the Placer County San Juan Water District (SJWD) where I live, we must conserve 36%. SJWD draws its water from Folsom Lake. The same reservoir PCWA will release 12,000 acre feet of water to be sent to EBMUD. Of course, requiring Placer County residents to conserve water ensures there will be enough water to sell to EBMUD.
No responsibility to protect fish
In a 2014 letter to California Natural Resources Agency criticizing the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) PCWA states,
PCWA is the primary water resource agency in Placer County. It is PCWA’s responsibility to secure, develop, manage, and protect water rights in Placer County thereby ensuring an adequate water supply for the county and its residents.
So if it’s their responsibility to ensure an adequate water supply for Placer County residents, why are they selling the water to EBMUD while declaring a water shortage in the county?
East Bay MUD mini-peripheral canal
If the release of the water from PCWA dams to support lower American River fisheries is such a beneficent act of environmental stewardship, why doesn’t PCWA just let the water flow into the Delta to help repel salinity intrusion? While some of the fresh water release may reach deep into the Delta, EBMUD maintains a pumping plant below the city of Sacramento to suck water out of the Sacramento River before it gets contaminated by Delta agricultural drainage water or Sacramento Regional Wastewater Treatment Facility effluent discharges into the Sacramento River. (EBMUD Freeport Water Diversion and Canal System)
Sell the water, sell the electricity
Water releases from PCWA’s water storage is not about helping the environment. It’s all about the money. Not only will PCWA make money from selling the water, more than likely the water releases will also be generating electricity from their Middle Fork Project series of dams. Large water agencies like PCWA are building war chests of cash to fight projects and regulations they don’t agree with such as the Bay Delta Conservation Plan. But this is what we get from privatizing our natural resources so they are sold to the highest bidder.
Why didn’t PCWA sell to Southern California for more money?
As a Placer County resident I would be in favor or transferring the water to poor communities in Tulare County whose wells have run dry because of the drought (As wells dry up, Monson hopes for more than talk about a fix). Fish are wonderful and I love the Bay Area, but there are California residents who are receiving bottled water from the State of California because they no longer have a source of drinking water. Has California become a third world country? But poor communities probably can’t afford to pay $500 an acre foot for water like Bay Area communities. If PCWA was looking to maximize a return on Mother Nature’s water, why didn’t PCWA sell the water to Metropolitan Water District at a higher price in Southern California? Or would that have been perceived as a water-grab and generated even more negative publicity for PCWA?
Water goes to the wealthy
A recent court decision in Orange County based on Proposition 218 determined that water districts can only charge consumers an amount equivalent to the cost of the water, treatment, and delivery. California should consider extending this consumer protection into the statewide water transfer and sales market. By allowing water transfers to be driven by profits – or revenues that far exceed expenses – we are creating a state where water resources are allocated to the highest bidder and not necessarily to regions where the water will have the greatest benefit in communities.
Other posts on the drought and water conservation-