June 2022

El Dorado Water NEWStream

June Edition

A Word From Our Board Chair, Lori Parlin 


I had the pleasure of traveling to Washington, D.C. in April for the Sacramento Metro Chamber’s annual Cap-to-Cap trip. I joined my colleagues, El Dorado County Supervisor and Agency Board Member Wendy Thomas and Agency General Manager Ken Payne, for meetings with congressional representatives and federal agencies to explain the importance of maintaining a rural-agriculture way of life and the need for an adequate and reliable water supply to achieve that goal.

These meetings were vitally important to highlighting our priority issues, such as implementing climate adaptation strategies to secure area-of-origin water rights and evaluate the feasibility of building high-elevation, off-stream storage to replace declining snowpack. We also discussed our efforts to formalize the County drought and water shortage task force to assist drought-vulnerable small water systems and domestic well users. Other parts of the conversation focused on our efforts to initiate a watershed planning process for the West Slope and the work we are doing to secure funding for the restoration of water systems damaged by wildfires.


As we enter the third year of drought, it is critical that all water users in El Dorado County have sustainable water supplies and appropriate drought mitigation measures and contingency plans are put into place. By working together, we can solve these vexing challenges and build a stronger and more resilient water future for our county. 

Agency Convenes Countywide Plenary for Water to Enhance Collaboration on Meeting Regional Water Needs

In April, we hosted the second Countywide Plenary for Water to formalize a collaborative venue among state and federal agencies, water agencies, local businesses, landowners, and County residents. The goal of the Plenary was to enhance collaboration to better manage existing water resources, improve reliability and resilience of our water supply, and protect the region’s watershed. The Plenary was held per our adopted policy and guidance for implementing our 2019 Water Resources Development and Management Plan.


“The Plenary could not have come at a better time as El Dorado County, like many California communities, is facing an unprecedented drought, climate challenges, unhealthy forests, and the associated threats from wildfires,” said George Turnboo, Agency Board member and County Supervisor. “The Plenary provided an opportunity for public and private entities to develop a common agenda that will address fast-changing climate conditions and changes needed to provide our communities and agricultural areas with sufficient water supply. By working cooperatively, the Plenary provides a venue for us to pursue state and federal funding for wildfire prevention, water infrastructure repair and improvements, watershed management, and drought planning in a coordinated and collaborative manner.”


The participants agreed to formalize the Plenary with a draft charter designed to represent the interests of El Dorado County residents, and to pursue legislative, regulatory, and funding solutions.

“The Plenary provides significant advantages in collectively seeking grant opportunities and developing efficiencies to meet regulatory and statutory requirements,” said Mike Thornbrough, Agency Board member and Georgetown Divide Public Utility District Board member.

The Plenary will formally meet again in fall 2022 to continue collaboration. 

Fuels Maintenance: Cattle Grazing on Federal Lands in the Auburn State Recreation Area

Unmaintained vegetation, especially invasive plant species, often provides fuel for wildfires. Recognizing the significant wildfire risk for local communities, we are exploring the revival of cattle grazing, once prevalent in the County, as one of the tools for fuels maintenance. Specifically, we are working with local cattle ranchers and the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation to identify a pilot area in the Auburn State Recreation Area (ASRA)/Auburn Project Lands (APL), to evaluate the benefits of cattle grazing in reducing wildfire risk in the Pilot Hill and Cool areas, especially in the urban-wildland interface regions. Additional partners in the pilot project include the California Department of Parks and Recreation, local ranchers, fire safe councils, UC Cooperative Extension, and other stakeholders. 


The pilot study, which will help determine whether there is value and interest in establishing a long-term grazing permit, is consistent with research from UC Berkeley that found that cattle grazing is an essential tool in reducing wildfire risk. If the pilot study is successful, cattle grazing could be expanded within the ASRA/APL and other federally managed areas in the County, further promoting the local rural-agricultural economy. 


The ASRA Knickerbocker Area Grazing Pilot Study aligns with the Agency’s 2019 Water Resources Development and Management Plan (WRDMP) to counter the risks to our County through improved watershed and fuels management during wildfire season. 

Agency Pursuing Additional Funding to Increase Drought Resistance and Expand Next-Generation Snowpack Monitoring in the Sierra Nevada 

We are working to secure additional federal funding to expand efforts to provide critical real-time data and water supply forecasting needed to help the region better prepare for droughts. Improving the accuracy, timeliness, and efficiency of meteorological forecasting and hydroclimatic modeling is the foundation for improved water management and drought response. 

With the support of Reclamation’s WaterSMART grant and collaboration of others, we are upgrading two of 12 experimental sensor clusters in the existing American River Basin Hydrologic Observatory wireless sensor network. In addition, we are formally requesting federal funding to upgrade the remaining 10 sites and move away from older snow pillow and other point measurement technologies, which are not sufficient, timely, or spatially representative. When complete, the full program (upgrade of 12 sites) will improve accuracy on watershed climate trends, snowpack conditions, and water availability to fully support improved water management. 

Potential Extension of Water Rights Curtailments in Delta Watershed

In response to ongoing drought conditions and water supply shortages throughout the state, the State Water Board recently adopted emergency drought regulations for urban water conservation. The Water Board is also in the process of updating its Water Availability Methodology to determine if future curtailments are necessary. A link to the State Water Board presentation from May 12 can be found here. Public comments can be submitted from June 27 - July 8 and a Board vote is scheduled for July 19.

Last year, the Board took the unprecedented step of curtailing pre-1914 riparian water rights, which affected water rights holders on the upper American River in El Dorado County. While the Board has not implemented a curtailment order at this time, the authority to do so remains in place. As the Board updates its methodology this summer, we anticipate they will take similar actions as extensive drought conditions continue. For more information about drought and curtailment information related to the Delta, please visit the State Water Board’s website and to learn more about local water resources and drought monitoring please visit our online mapping and data portal.

First Five-Year Update of Tahoe Valley South Subbasin Alternative Plan has been Adopted

The first five-year update of the Tahoe Valley South (TVS) Subbasin Alternative Plan provides new information to facilitate periodic review by the California Department of Water Resources and was prepared as required by the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act of 2014. The Alternative Plan was prepared by the South Tahoe Public Utility District, as plan manager, on behalf of the District and El Dorado Water Agency and applies to lands within the full extent of the TVS Subbasin. 


After review and assessment, a draft of the updated Alternative Plan was developed and issued for public comment. Following the close of the public comment period, changes to the draft plan, as necessary, were completed and responses to written comments were prepared. The final updated Alternative Plan, along with the public comments and responses, was presented during a public hearing to the District’s Board of Directors and the Agency’s Board of Directors, and the Alternative Plan was adopted in April 2022.