OrovilleMR: Water Transfer from Small Reservoir in Butte County Raises Big Concerns from Environmental Groups
THERMALITO -- A transfer from a lesser-known small reservoir in Butte County to one of the largest agricultural water districts in the state is moving ahead this year. Concow Reservoir is in the Concow Valley, and operated by Thermalito Water and Sewer District.
The plan would transfer up to 2,500 acre-feet of water to Westlands Water District in the western San Joaquin Valley through the remainder of the summer.
Locally, the Butte Environmental Council and a coalition joined by Chico's AquAlliance have written letters to the State Water Resources Control Board hoping to halt the new deal.
Concow Reservoir can store up to 8,200 acre-feet of water.
One acre-foot is 325,851 gallons, or enough water for about two California households for a year.
The Concow Creek watershed provides more water than can be stored in the reservoir, explained Bill Paris, the water district's attorney.
"Even though we have dry conditions in the state generally, Concow Lake is filled to capacity."
The operations of Concow Reservoir include a deal with the Department of Water Resources. People who use water from Concow are allowed to take water whenever they need it. If there isn't enough water in Concow Reservoir at that moment, they are allowed to use Lake Oroville water.
At the end of August, releases are made from Concow Reservoir into Lake Oroville to even out the amount of water used during the year.
Water is then diverted again to storage at Concow Reservoir from Dec. 1 to April 1.
Right now, residents tied to the Thermalito Water and Sewer District use between 2,000-3,000 acre-feet a year. But most of the time the reservoir is filled at 8,200 acre-feet until September.
A few other restrictions are on the water system, including adjusting flows to allow for bass to spawn, Paris explained.
Paris said the board of directors in charge of the reservoir is interested in selling excess water this year, but knows that in the future the area will be developed, and more surface water will be needed.
To view the transfer petition: goo.gl/f8Aw6K.
In the meantime, water transfers could benefit the small water district.
"If this worked out, this would be a way for the district to utilize the full capacity of its water right," the attorney said.
The plan would be to keep the storage at 5,200 acre-feet instead of the full 8,200.
For the transfer, water stored at Concow would flow down Concow Creek to Lake Oroville, a few miles downstream, Paris explained.
When released, the water would flow down the Feather River, to the Sacramento River, through the Sacrament-San Joaquin Delta, to the aqueduct that leads to Westlands landowners.
Northern California groups have spoken against the water transfer.
Carol Perkins, water policy advocate for the Butte Environmental Council, said water doesn't just stay in the reservoir and waterways.
Residents near the reservoir use groundwater as well.
"Anytime we're shifting, or the potential to switch from surface to groundwater, it's a concern because there is no way to monitor (groundwater usage). We don't know the impacts to the surrounding area," Perkins said.
Perkins said the deal also took place without a lot of public disclosure.
She also objects to Westlands Water District buying water from this area.
Even smaller transfers contribute to the rest of the state becoming dependent on Northern California water, she continued.
To read the BEC comments: goo.gl/psYK8o.
AquAlliance, based in Chico, submitted 13 pages of comments with California Water Impact Network and the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.
The groups challenge the transfer stating there is no proof that fish and wildlife would not be harmed and that the transfer isn't consistent with groundwater management plans.
The letter also states that an environmental review needs to be done for "serial transfers and illegal piece-mealing" of water transfers.
Reach Heather Hacking at 896-7758, firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter @HeatherHacking.