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Leaky canals costly to Placer Water

Leaks created wildlife habitat and problems to fix
By: Gus Thomson, Reporter/Columnist
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A $500,000 program to mitigate for destruction of artificial habitat created by Placer County Water Agency canal leaks has ended.

The Water Agency started working in the mid-2000s to fix ongoing leaks along its canals and confronted a problem of its own doing.

The leaks had created what state Environmental Quality Act standards defined as artificially established wetlands and habitat for wildlife.

As a result,  the agency partnered with the Placer Land Trust in 2007 to establish mitigation funding to allow what was considered damage to 8,865 acres of habitat as the leaks were fixed.

That program has amounted to just more than $503,000 in water agency contributions to the wetland mitigation account, according to Land Trust figures.

Land Trust Executive Director Jeff Darlington reported to the Water Agency this past month that the funds have now been spent and the account has a zero balance.

Mitigation funding has provided significant wetlands protection in Placer County, Darlington said. At its inception, the Water Agency decided to go with the Auburn-based land preservation organization rather than the National Wildlife Fund or other outside group.

The funding leveraged millions of dollars of matching funds to permanently protect 4,050 acres in the north fork American River, Auburn Ravine, Raccoon Creek and Bear River watersheds, Darlington said.

Mitigation funds were also blended with hundreds of thousands of dollars of matching funds to enhance, restore and maintain 3,130 acres of land in those watersheds, he added.

Brent Smith, Water Agency technical services director, said mitigation through funding land trust efforts was determined to be the most economical method to offset the loss of the artificially created wetlands.

And the agency is keeping an upper hand on leaks.

“Since 2007, the agency has kept current on the repair of its canal leaks as they have developed and the agency has not had to contribute any additional mitigation funds,” Smith said.