Historic King-James Orchard and Ranch in Buckhorn
More than 10 years ago, the Amador Water Agency applied for a new Mokelumne River water right to supply the Central Amador Water Project. The project provides water for Buckhorn, Pioneer and Pine Grove. If the agency successfully secures the right from the state, it will have another 1,050 acre feet of water available for use in the CAWP service area. That’s enough for more than 3,000 new homes at the current rate of water use.
Our concerns about this water rights application have never focused on its potential environmental impacts on the Mokelumne River. When compared to the annual river flow, the volume in the water rights application is the proverbial drop in the bucket, and the water would be stored in the existing Lower Bear River Reservoir. However, we have been concerned about the potential growth-inducing impacts of adding a lot more water to upcountry Amador when other agencies are not planning for much growth.
For example, the water agency’s draft environmental impact report estimates the buildout population for the affected area as more than 22,000 people. This is an increase of over 15,000 residents compared to today. In comparison, in 2013 the California Department of Finance estimated countywide population growth through 2050 as about 7,000 people.
After the release of the draft EIR, we engaged land use attorney Tom Infusino to develop comments on the project and report. In a comment letter sent on our behalf in mid-June, Tom noted that the primary failings of the EIR were:
- Not considering the impacts of future phases of the project such as expanding and extending water service and wastewater infrastructure.
- Not identifying mitigation measures for the secondary project impacts of development in the CAWP Service Area suitable for adoption by responsible and trustee agencies, including Amador County.
- Proposing vague, unenforceable policy proclamations instead of feasible mitigation measures that could be included as conditions of approval of the proposed water right.
- Misleading readers with statements and unsubstantiated assumptions that tend to understate the potential secondary project impacts from development in the CAWP service area.
- Failing to include available development forecasts other than the calculated maximum.
- Relying on information from the Amador County General Plan’s flawed DEIR, rather than independently analyzing the secondary project impacts from development in the CAWP service area.
- Considering a “straw man” alternative focused only on reducing future growth in the CAWP service area, rather than on feasible alternatives focused on reducing the impacts of future growth in the CAWP service area.
In that letter, we also recommended that the agency adopt mitigation measures to address our concerns. Our recommendations were that:
- AWA provide water service only to county-approved developments that fully mitigate and pay for their impacts on roads, schools, wildland-fire risk, emergency services, air quality, agricultural and timber resources, biological resources, and greenhouse gas emissions.
- AWA not expand its water distribution system to currently undeveloped parcels outside the county general plan Town Centers if doing so would (1) allow those parcels to be developed at a density greater than one home per every five acres, or (2) facilitate the subdivision or rezoning of existing parcels greater than 20 acres in size.
- AWA not expand the CAWP water distribution system outside its existing boundary or connect the CAWP system with other water distribution systems without new environmental review that fully analyzes the impacts of the expanded area of use.
We also recommended that AWA write and adopt rules and regulations governing service to ensure the first two mitigations could be enforced.
We have not received a response from AWA nor any communication to discuss our concerns. We expect the agency will formally respond to our comments in the final environmental impact report for the project instead.
We regret that AWA seems unwilling to meet with us to address our concerns. We are not opposed to water planning that provides adequate water to meet local needs. But we are concerned that adding water to an area ill-suited for much future development, where the county, schools, fire departments and other agencies aren’t planning for much growth, is a recipe for diminishing infrastructure capacity, government services, and local quality of life.
After the water agency completes the EIR for the water right, the application may proceed for processing by the State Water Resources Control Board unless someone challenges it in court.
More information about the water right and its draft EIR can be found on the Amador Water Agency website.