Local agencies in discussions with Marin over water transfers

Sep. 1—The Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District (GCID) has had discussions with the Marin Municipal Water District about a potential water transfer in 2022, according to GCID Finance Director Louis Jarvis.

According to the Marin Independent Journal, Marin Municipal Water District approved contracts on Monday as part of a project to build a pipeline that would bring water from the Sacramento Valley to Marin County.

Jarvis said Tuesday that no timeline has been established for an agreement between the two agencies. He said it has been discussed that up to 15,000 acre-feet of water could potentially be transferred to Marin.

"If an agreement is worked out, it would be for a one-time transfer occurring in 2022," Jarvis said in an email.

To make water available for transfer, farmers within GCID will be asked to voluntarily idle fields that would have otherwise been planted. No one is required to idle their land to provide for the transfer, Jarvis said.

"The water that the crops would have used if they were planted is made available for transfer," Jarvis said. "The farmers that choose to idle their land will be compensated for doing so. A portion of the payments that Marin Municipal Water District makes to Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District for the transferred water are used to compensate the farmers idling land."

Jarvis said during dry years demand for water transfers is significant.

"Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District is aware that land temporarily idled to provide water for transfers impacts the Sacramento Valley economy," Jarvis said. "Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District limits the amount of land idled for water transfers in order to minimize the regional economic impact."

All transfers require approval from the Federal Bureau of Reclamation. Jarvis said the environmental benefit of water transfers isn't often discussed.

"Water being made available for transfer by idling land within Glenn-Colusa Irrigation District can be stored in Shasta Lake and released for transfer in August and September, when the release of that water helps manage water temperatures in the Sacramento River, which benefits fish populations," Jarvis said. "The environmental benefit of water transfers is one aspect of balancing the use of California's water supply."

The Yuba Water Agency has been having "exploratory conversations" with the Marin Municipal Water District regarding a water transfer agreement, according to YWA communications manager DeDe Cordell.

She said YWA has also been in similar conversations with other Bay Area water agencies.

"This is not something that's new," Cordell said.

Cordell said water transfers from YWA to other agencies do not in any way harm fisheries, farmers or other water users. Water released from New Bullards Bar Reservoir for fisheries makes its way down the Yuba and Feather rivers, merges with the Sacramento River and goes through the Bay Area delta. When an agreement is reached between YWA and other agencies, water that would have otherwise flowed to the ocean after serving its purpose locally would be transferred to an agency that can benefit from the water.

Water purchase agreements are one of three parts of the Lower Yuba River Accord — finalized in May 2008 between 18 different parties. Fisheries agreements and conjunctive use agreements make up the other two parts.

"I find it to be fascinating," Cordell said of the accord. "It's a really brilliant way of managing water."

She said it's the reason the current water situation in Yuba County is better than in other parts of the state. When YWA agrees to a water transfer, the money it receives from another agency is reinvested into water projects in Yuba County including levee work.

"It's a win-win for everybody," Cordell said.

Reservoir storage at New Bullards Bar is currently at 44 percent. That is down from the historical average of 65 percent but better than reservoirs in Shasta (27 percent), Oroville (23 percent) and Folsom (24 percent), according to YWA.

"To be clear, we are very concerned about the drought," Cordell said. "... One more dry winter could be devastating. But because of the Yuba Accord, we are better able to handle those extreme years."