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General Manager: Water shortage after canal break is ‘catastrophic, dire situation’

Lincoln farmers say no water means no revenue
By: Bridget Jones, Journal Staff Writer
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Placer County residents including those in Lincoln are feeling the effects of a massive water shortage deemed “catastrophic” due to an April 19 PG&E Bear River Canal break. At a special Placer County Water Agency board meeting Thursday afternoon General Manager Dave Breninger commented to staff about the “catastrophic, dire situation we are in now.” Breninger made a presentation of the services zones most impacted by the break, Zone 1, Zone 5 and Zone 3. Through a series of alternating canal outages, pumping water from the American River and working with the Nevada Irrigation District to share water, Zone 1, which includes canals in the greater Auburn area, is currently operating on 28 cubic feet per second of water whereas the area normally operates on 60 cfs, Breninger said. During the meeting the company repeated its message that all treated and irrigation water customers in Zone 1 and Zone 3 should conserve as much as possible. Zone 5 in the greater Lincoln area is suffering because it does not have the same sharing options as Zone 1, Breninger said. “We are in an agonizing situation,” Breninger said. “We can’t meet the commitments to Zone 5.” Breninger said currently there is no supply of water to count on west of Lincoln, and pumping water out of the canyon would be incredibly expensive for ratepayers. Although farmers in the Lincoln area normally operate on 70 cfs, Breninger said the agency could probably only get them 30 cfs if pumping from the canyon. Lorraine Greco, a rice farmer in Lincoln, said with no new irrigation water coming in, she will have zero income from her crop and still have the normal operating expenses. Greco told the board she hopes it doesn’t enforce a huge rate increase next year because of the dilemma this year. “I know there is nothing that can be done for us this year, but I hope you don’t seal the coffin next year,” Greco said. Carol Scheiber is a Lincoln cattle farmer and said because she has no new irrigation water coming in, she will have to buy hay for her cattle to get them through the summer, which is not an economical thing to do. “After this meeting … I understand a little bit more about what is going on, but it doesn’t make it any easier to accept,” Scheiber said. “It is hard to farm without water.” The PCWA board tentatively scheduled a public hearing for 5:30 p.m. May 10 at Auburn’s Holiday Inn to communicate the continuing issue to its customers in the surrounding area. Breninger said some of the main issues that have made the situation worse are the fact that PG&E hasn’t started a temporary bypass at the canal site and has now expressed to the agency that construction for a permanent fix might not start until July 8. At a regular board meeting April 21 PG&E representatives stated a temporary bypass could begin as early as April 22. Kevin Goishi, a project manager with PG&E, who attended Thursday’s meeting, said both the bypass and the permanent construction would not be possible until the company gets the results of its geo-technical studies to understand the stability of the ground in the area of the landslide and break. The results are expected May 10, Goishi said. Goishi said there are several alternatives for both the bypass and permanent construction, but they have to understand what they would be building on top of to decide on those alternatives. Goishi said the area could also pose dangers for PG&E crews if the stability of the ground is unknown. “We all live in Placer County also, and there is no doubt it’s a dire situation,” he said. “We are doing it as quickly as we can. You can’t just run onto a site like this.” Reach Bridget Jones at bridgetj@goldcountrymedia.com