Our Water, Our Future



Securing senior water rights and water storage for Tuolumne County dates back more than a century. A newspaper article published February 28th described the need for more water in Tuolumne County as an “old question, never settled.” That was February 28th, 1920. The truth is, the County has struggled with a dependable water supply for decades. Today, we have a chance to change that. The Tuolumne Utilities District (TUD) and the communities we serve are faced with the opportunity of a lifetime: a chance to finally secure a reliable water supply – and the future of Tuolumne County for generations to come.

    The opportunity

    PG&E Water Rights & Facilities

    TUD has entered into exclusive negotiations with Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) to acquire water storage and supply, pre-1914 water rights – the oldest water rights in California – as well as Pinecrest Lake, Lyons Reservoir, the Tuolumne Main Canal, and Phoenix Hydropower Facilities to meet the water supply needs for Tuolumne County.


    Tuolumne County is home to tremendous water resources, to the tune of 5.5 million acre-feet in annual reservoir storage. That’s a lot of water. However, practically all of it is sent elsewhere, to other water agencies throughout the state. The history of water in the County is a series of complicated twists and turns involving federal, state, and local agencies. It harkens back to the Gold Rush era, when most water rights for the South Fork of the Stanislaus River were filled.

    Photo by Tuolumne Utilities District. Pictured left, Lyons Reservoir.

    How will this benefit us?


    The Tuolumne Utilities District (TUD or District) is exploring a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to secure reliable water supplies to benefit Tuolumne County residents for generations to come.


    Tuolumne County has an Annual Total Reservoir Water Storage Capacity of over 5.5 million-acre feet, with practically all this water diverted to other water agencies throughout the State. Tuolumne County…



    Acquiring the water system and water rights will come with a cost. However, if we do nothing, we risk water supply uncertainty, ownership by outside parties, rate increases, and overall…


    Pinecrest and Lyons Reservoirs serve as our primary water storage reservoirs. Because of their small size (23,000 acre-feet combined), TUD does not enjoy significant carryover storage, and therefore, must rely…


    Tuolumne County has zero water rights presently. Most water rights to the South Fork of the Stanislaus River were filed in the 1850’s during the Gold Rush. Tuolumne County needs…


    TUD has entered into exclusive negotiations with Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) to acquire pre-1914 water rights – the oldest water rights in California – water reservoirs: Pinecrest Lake…

    The bottom line: despite abundant water, Tuolumne County currently has no water rights.

    What's at stake

    Securing this water system is an opportunity to solidify our water supply for future generations. It is a chance to exercise local control over our critically important water system, operating it more efficiently and effectively for the benefit of local residents.

    Protecting Public Safety

    In 2019, Tuolumne County was listed as the number one County at risk of wildfire by the California Department of Insurance. With that ever-increasing threat, Tuolumne County needs water rights and a reliable water source now more than ever. The protection of TUD’s watershed and water supply infrastructure are of greater concern due to the extreme risk of wildfire in our community. The ability to directly control this water system improves our ability to safeguard the region.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    Our Water, Our Future

    Assets to be transferred from PG&E are all the Phoenix hydroelectric generation project components, including approximately 460 acres of land, Lyons Reservoir and Dam, the 15-mile Main Tuolumne Canal, the Phoenix Penstock, and the 2MW Phoenix Powerhouse. Also included in the transfer are the pre- and post-1914 water rights, Strawberry Dam, and Pinecrest Reservoir. The latter two elements are currently included in PG&E’s Spring Gap-Stanislaus hydroelectric generation project.

    TUD has expressed its interest to acquire the facilities and water rights associated with the water it delivers to its customers. Pinecrest is an important element of the County’s water supply because TUD also relies on water stored and delivered from Pinecrest Lake. PG&E is considering the transfer of the Strawberry Dam and Pinecrest Reservoir at the request of TUD.

    As the main and largest water storage reservoir for Tuolumne County residents, it is a critically important element of TUD’s summer water supply.

    • Local Ownership – TUD ownership of the facilities will provide more control of our future water supply. In addition to managerial control, TUD will be required to take responsibility for maintaining the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) licensing and compliance proceedings.
    • FERC License – The FERC licensing process will not change as a result of the transfer of the Phoenix assets to TUD. TUD will step into PG&E’s role in the relicensing process when it takes ownership of the Project.
    • Staffing – TUD expects it may need to increase staffing to support the operation and maintenance of the PG&E assets but will make further determinations as it gets a better understanding of the required work.
    • Operations – It’s possible that current operations will be adjusted to meet the water needs of the community, but TUD will continue to operate the Phoenix Project and Pinecrest Reservoir within the parameters of the existing FERC requirements.

    Because PG&E has essentially been providing this water for free as part of its generation operations, future costs to operate and maintain the facilities will need to be paid for by TUD and the community. TUD is working with an independent financial firm to study and evaluate costs, in an effort to look for creative and innovative ways to minimize the impacts to TUD customers and the community.

    The current estimate is that it will take 2-3 years to complete negotiations, obtain the required regulatory approvals from FERC and the CPUC, and transfer the assets from PG&E to TUD.

    The Cost of Missing Out

    Ownership of this water system will not come without a cost. Federal and state regulations necessitate regular inspections and upkeep, among other requirements.
    However, this is an opportunity we cannot afford to miss.
    If TUD does not acquire these water rights and facilities, they may be sold to an outside entity. This may jeopardize the County’s water supply and dramatically increase costs for our ratepayers. Simply put, we can’t afford to take a chance on our future.


    PG&E on the Stanislaus River

    California’s Gold Rush era ushered in more than just gold. The water transport system the miners built to move river water to mines, so water could wash the gold from...

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    What's Next?

    TUD and PG&E are diligently working to determine the terms of this potential transfer agreement. It is a complicated, lengthy process that will likely take two years.

    We invite you to play an active role in this process. Please follow the latest developments on this website, and on TUD’s Facebook page. TUD is planning to hold multiple public forums to engage in a collaborative dialogue with interested ratepayers, landowners, and other stakeholders. You may also submit comments online. We are eager for your feedback and welcome your input.