A Deal is a Deal – El Dorado Irrigation District Seeks to Add More Diversions from SF American River

By Cindy Charles

CSPA and a coalition of environmental and recreation organizations submitted comments in response to the April 17, 2020 Notice of Preparation of an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for El Dorado Irrigation District’s (EID) proposed modification of Water Right Permit 21112.[1]

EID proposes to add points of diversion and rediversion to its existing permit.  The new points of diversion would be upstream of the heavily used whitewater boating section of the South Fork American River.  Nearly 30 years ago, EID, through the El Dorado County Water Agency, formally agreed to divert water exclusively from Folsom Reservoir, which is downstream of the whitewater boating reaches.  Now EID is reversing that commitment in seeking upstream points of diversion and rediversion.

Our joint comment letter reminds the current EID management and Board to honor their predecessors’ commitment and not pursue the request to divert water from upstream of Chili Bar Dam.

The letter also states that should EID persist in pursuing the addition of points of diversion and rediversion to Permit 21112, the signatories of the letter plan to protest the District’s petition once it is noticed by the State Water Board. In addition, the letter outlines a number of recommendations a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) should address if EID moves forward on this project.  Some key recommendations include:

  • A detailed description, with modeling, of current and future operations under the Proposed Project.
  • Disclose and analyze actual and updated estimates of future demand in EID’s service area that would be served by the requested new points of diversion and rediversion.
  • Disclose the impacts of the Proposed Project and evaluate mitigations of those impacts. Among the impacts are to Folsom Reservoir, Lower American River, cumulative impacts on the Sacramento River and the Sacramento – San Joaquin Bay Delta, Impacts to lake levels at Silver Lake and Caples Lake. Impacts to whitewater boating, aquatic resources, increased wildfire risks.
  • Describe planned or foreseeable future water transfers under the Proposed Project and whether, how and to what degree the requested changes in permit conditions will assist and incentivize transfers of water.

The South Fork of the American River downstream of Chili Bar Reservoir is one of the premier and most used year-around whitewater recreation waterways in the entire United States. It draws rafters and kayakers from around the United States and the world. Such visitation provides a major source of income to El Dorado County businesses. Boating opportunities further upstream, on the South Fork American between Slab Creek Reservoir and Chili Bar Reservoir, are largely dependent on “spill” flows, which could be less frequent and lower in volume under the proposed new diversions.

CSPA is particularly concerned about how the proposed new points of diversion could allow a “county of origin” water right to enable increased water transfers. County of origin filings, such as the one under which Permit 21112 was issued, were established in 1927 to protect mountain and foothill watersheds from losing their water supply to wealthier and at the time more developed urban and agricultural users in the Central Valley and on the coast. Water transfers that the changes to Permit 21112 could enable would likely involve selling water to the very entities from which the county of origin laws originally sought protection. County of origin laws were set up to meet the actual development needs of upcountry counties, not to enable upcountry counties to cash in by diverting more water from the state’s rivers.

[1] Permit 21112 allows EID to divert up to 17,000 acre-feet per year (AFY) from the South Fork American watershed. Under the Permit, EID stores water in three storage reservoirs high in the watershed: Lake Aloha, Caples Lake, and Silver Lake. At present, the sole point of direct diversion and rediversion in the South Fork American watershed downstream of these storage reservoirs is Folsom Reservoir.


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