Don Pedro: Serious water cutbacks approved | Sonora / Tuolumne News, Sports, & Weather, Angels Camp, Twain Harte, Jamestown | Union Democrat

The Lake Don Pedro Community Services District Board of Directors on Monday voted to declare a “Stage III Drought Emergency,” meaning an extension of a ban on outside landscape irrigation, and a move to 50 percent mandatory water-use restrictions.

The water-saving measures are effective April 1.

More than 200 people attended Monday’s public hearing in the Don Pedro High School gymnasium to hear how their primary water supply at Lake McClure could run out by August.

They sat in folding chairs and bleachers, and some asked how they can cut back their water usage. Others asked what a water outage could mean for firefighters, how they can expect to take care of their horses, and why fish downstream are getting more water than human beings.

The board also voted 4-0 to declare an emergency pursuant to public contract codes in order to proceed with emergency water supply construction projects without public bidding.

The measure — deemed necessary because noticing and advertising for bidding could preclude timely action before McClure water is no longer available — is effective immediately, district General Manager Pete Kampa said.

The situation for Lake Don Pedro Community Services District customers is dire, because they get their water from McClure, a reservoir behind a dam built in the 1960s with mandated pulse flows for salmon and steelhead populations downstream, Kampa said. The reservoir is run by Merced Irrigation District, which recently got permission to reduce flows by 40 percent. However, regular releases are supposed to resume April 1.

A pump barge pulling water Monday out of McClure for Lake Don Pedro CSD customers was floating on water less than 70 feet deep that could run out by August, Kampa said.

“By that time, it looks like there won’t be enough water in there for our pumps to operate,” Kampa said. “If we have a March miracle, if there is a change, then we can have a conversation. Right now, I’m looking at what we have and planning for the worst.”

The district has been searching for cost-effective wells that can supplement its water supply, with limited results to date. The best-bet emergency option appears to be putting floating pumps five miles farther downstream, close to New Exchequer Dam where the water is deeper, Kampa said.

The stopgap measure involves installing about five miles of pipeline and a temporary tank. It would cost an estimated $6 million, Kampa said.

The district does not have that kind of money on hand or in reserve. Moving to 50 percent mandatory water-use restrictions could help the district qualify for badly needed drought emergency grant funds, Kampa said.

“We have the distinction of being the highest priority in the state,” Kampa told the audience.

Asked for clarity later, Kampa said, “We are the highest priority for assistance because we are a large community on a large public system in jeopardy of losing its primary water supply.”

Lake Don Pedro Community Services District serves about 3,200 people between Coulterville and La Grange. Kampa said he’s been told the district is the highest priority in the state by a regulator with the State Water Resources Control Board.

Resident Leslie Farrow reminded people they should be especially diligent about clearing their properties of fire fuel — i.e. flammable trees and shrubs — as the next fire season approaches.

Battalion Chief Steven Ward, of Cal Fire’s Madera-Mariposa-Merced Unit, concurred, adding that his crews are working on plans to fight fires in the Don Pedro community even if there is a water outage with no pressure in the system for fire hydrants.

“Contingency plans in the event of a water outage include responding to fires with water tenders,” Ward said. “We’re also letting people know their well-water storage tanks can be a source of water for firefighting. But we can’t overstate how important it is for people to clear a hundred feet of defensible space around their homes.”

District staff brought a limited supply of bright orange 5-gallon buckets for residents. In each bucket were water-saving shower heads, faucet aerators, garden hose nozzles, toilet tank leak detector tablets, and instructions on how to cut down home water use.

“We hope people recognize this is a water crisis,” Lake Don Pedro CSD board President Danny Johnson said. “McClure could run out by August. We have to prepare for that.”

Board member Chuck Day urged people to write letters to the state’s U.S. senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and demand an end to pulse flows from McClure.

Robert Ryder, the health officer for Mariposa County, who told the board of directors last week an emergency water outage could create public health hazards, appealed to people in attendance Monday night.

“We hope to work with you to identify those that could be at risk, especially the elderly,” Ryder said. “This could be ammunition in Sacramento.”

McClure’s current storage level is one of the lowest among state reservoirs, due in part to releases for downstream fish. It hit a record low Feb. 3 with 63,489 acre-feet, about 6 percent of capacity, according to Merced district spokesman Mike Jensen.

On Monday, McClure held 87,600 acre-feet of water — 8.4 percent of capacity, according to a state daily reservoir storage summary.

The next regular meeting of the Lake Don Pedro CSD board is scheduled for 1 p.m. March 16 at 9751 Merced Falls Road, La Grange.

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