OAKLAND, Calif. -- The East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD), which has paid millions of dollars for the American River water rights it secured in 1970, remains committed to using those rights to protect the district's l.2 million water customers in Alameda and Contra Costa counties from a drought. Without a supplemental supply, residential customers would have to cut their water use by more than 65 percent in a severe drought.
In 1993, the district began to implement its long-term Water Supply Management Plan which calls for major efforts in conservation and reclamation to save water while the district seeks a supplemental supply or additional storage.
In 1995, the Board directed the district to tap into its American River water rights for that supplemental supply. But at that time, representatives of the Sacramento community lobbied the Board to negotiate a regional alternative for tapping into the American River with them rather than taking water from the reservoir from the Nimbus Dam, as called for under the district's contract with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
The district had a long and acrimonious history with Sacramento interests, demonstrated most notably by a 17-year legal battle which ended in a 1990 Superior Court decision affirming the district's right to take water from the American River. That decision required environmental safeguards be in place. EBMUD chose to work for a regional solution rather than continue old hostilities.
The district slowed down its plans to divert water from Nimbus Dam to see if it could negotiate a regional deal with Sacramento interests that would serve both communities.
Today, after EBMUD has invested hundreds of hours in negotiating sessions, millions of dollars in studies, and negotiated a project proposal approved in concept by the Sacramento Board of Supervisors nearly two years ago, Sacramento representatives say now their community lacks the "political will" to execute the deal.
The regional deal approved in concept by Sacramento, would have had the district taking its American River water further down the river near the I-5 confluence in Sacramento as part of a joint diversion facility with the city and county of Sacramento.
In recent weeks, Sacramento leaders have pointed to the district's recent amendment of its American River contract with the Bureau of Reclamation as reason for its backing away from this deal. In reality, a major reason for the changes to that contract was to allow for the regional deal. Under the previous contract, the district could only take water from Nimbus Dam and operate under the conditions set forth as a result of the previous lengthy litigation.
EBMUD still feels the regional deal would provide the most benefit to both communities and hopes that Sacramento interests will come to the same conclusion and return to the bargaining table to finish that process.
Some Sacramento interests appear poised to lodge yet another legal challenge to the district's heavily invested rights to use water from the American River. But EBMUD is committed to protecting its customers from the devastation of a severe drought.
"If a regional solution cannot be reached, the district is prepared to pursue its 1995 plan to divert American River water at Nimbus as approved by the Superior Court decision," said John Coleman, EBMUD Board president. "The district will also continue to seek additional storage, whether via underground storage in San Joaquin County or the East Bay or by enlarging Pardee Reservoir."
The regional plan entails the construction of a facility to transport the water from the Folsom South Canal to its Mokelumne Aqueducts.
''We are committed to ensuring that EBMUD customers get a fair return on their investment in water supplies," said Coleman, "an investment that was made with the approval of state and federal agencies and reaffirmed by the courts."
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