The Calaveras Public Utility District is in talks to provide excess water stored in Schaads Reservoir on the Mokelumne River to a nearly 800-acre park and housing development in Contra Costa County.
The district, which provides water to about 5,400 customers primarily in San Andreas and Mokelumne Hill, has agreed to sell up to 200-acre-feet of water annually to the developers of the Tassajara Parks Project at $250 per acre foot of water, or $50,000 per year.
CPUD Manager Donna Leatherman said the funds would help go toward a much needed pipeline installation between the Schaads Reservoir and the new Jeff Davis Reservoir.
Leatherman said that last year the district was exploring options to pay for the $11 million pipeline, much of which will come from grants. The Contras Costa project gives the district the opportunity to fund the remaining portion of the project and potentially generate $2.5 million in profit.
The water sale, however, hasn’t passed by without its critics.
The Calaveras Planning Coalition, a citizen’s advocacy group, circulated a letter to the various parties involved with the deal expressing concerns that Calaveras residents were left in the dark on the decision to sell the water.
In his letter, Tom Infusino, facilitator for the coalition, said the environmental impact report for the development downplays local concerns of selling water from the Mokelumne River supply to a “single development” in Contra Costa County.
“Merely listing ‘water supply’ as a potentially controversial issue in the (environmental report) is far too vague to alert people to the actual concerns,” he wrote.
The letter said the revised draft Environmental Impact Report failed to provide a cumulative effect report on Calaveras County.
“Calaveras County is depending on new development in the CPUD service area to improve the aesthetics of local downtowns, to improve the efficient use of water resources, to finance traffic congestion relief projects and to reduce the need for people to commute to work, among other environmental benefits.”
The environmental report says that, “because the project is not currently located within the service area of any existing public water system and there are no other existing or future customers, water availability for existing EBMUD and CPUD customers and planned future land uses would remain unchanged from conditions otherwise planned.”
Leatherman said that the water scheduled to be released from Schaads Reservoir will have a minimal impact, if any, on the utility district.
According to the agreement term sheet, the 200 acre-feet per year figure was requested to allow the project ample room for any changes in water needs. The project is estimated to use approximately 48 acre-feet per year.
To put that in perspective, the Schaads reservoir typically holds anywhere from 1,400 to 1,800 acre-feet of water.
The terms of the team are broken into two, 25-year segments. After the first 25-year both parties can renew the lease for an additional 25 years.
Upon completion of an environmental review, approval of the project by Contra Costa County, Local Agency Formation Commission and final approval of the lease agreement, CPUD will receive a $50,000 lump-sum payment from the project’s suppliers.
An additional $200,000 will also be paid to CPUD upon final resource agency approval. The total lump-sum payment will then be applied to the annual purchase price of the 25-year lease term.
To facilitate the transfer, CPUD will work with the East Bay Municipal Utility District to store the excess water released from the Schaads in EBMUD’s Pardee Reservoir located south-east of the Schaads reservoir.
Due to CPUD’s pre-1914 claim to the middle fork of the river, Schaads reservoir does not fall under the same “use it, or lose it,” guidelines that other utility districts might have to contend with. Typically, a district with post-1914 appropriative water rights could lose their rights to the water if unused for more than five years.
In the meantime, even some Contra County officials are questioning whether the project actually needs the CPUD water supply. Originally, the water supply evaluation for the project, dated, Dec. 2015, listed a possible recycled water option that would have increased the use of recycled water in the EBMUD service to offset the use of drinkable water for landscape irrigation.
An offsite water conservation option was selected to replace the recycled water plan. The plan would either expand EBMUD’s drinkable water by funding water conservation at a level beyond what EBMUD approved in 2012, or increase the implementation of yet-to-be funded conservation measures.
Either option would work for the project’s water demands, according to one Contra County official.
“They need water and they had these different options,” said Contra Costa County Planning Manager John Oborne. “I think that’s where the applicant is going, to use something that works before so it’s not a precedent.”
“We don’t need to go to Calaveras,” said Oborne.
However, Calaveras remains the leading option.
The Tassajara Parks Project has undergone several changes since originally proposed in 2007 as New Farm. New Farm had originally planned to include 185 houses, mostly of the larger variety.
That plan was quickly panned by area environmentalist and stakeholders, due to what they felt might create an opportunity for more urban sprawl.
“The public mainly is responding to the urban limit line move,” said Oborne. “They are mainly against it because the concern is it starts a precedent,”
Currently, the 125 single-family homes are planned for construction on a small, 30-acre plot of land on the northern site, with the remaining 135 split between the East bay Regional Park District and the Geologic Hazard Abatement District.
About 600-acres of the project will be set aside for preservation and will require no water demand.
The period for comment was initially scheduled to close on Nov. 14, but on Nov. 10 the comment period was extended to Nov. 30. Written comments must be submitted by 5 p.m. on Nov. 30.