Our Water,
Our Future

Secure water for generations

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 have the opportunity of a lifetime: a chance to finally secure a reliable water supply – and the future of Tuolumne County for generations to come.

    SECURE WATER FOR GENERATIONS

    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 have 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

      LOCAL CONTROL FOR COMMUNITY BENEFIT

      TUD is negotiating with Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) to acquire valuable, senior pre-1914 water rights with facilities including Pinecrest Lake, Lyons Reservoir, the Tuolumne Main Canal, and the Phoenix Hydropower Facilities. Our goal is to bring these assets under our customers' control and secure Tuolumne County's water future.

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

      Community Benefits

      First In Line For Water

      Tuolumne County has zero water rights presently and has struggled with a dependable water supply for years. This is an opportunity to always be at the front of the line each year, securing critically important water supplies for our customers now and in the future.

      Local Control

      TUD customers understand that government functions best when it is closest to – and therefore most accountable to – its constituents. If TUD acquires the system, that means no other entity or investor could acquire these assets and have the power to manage the system in a way that is inconsistent with Tuolumne County values and interests.

      FLEXIBILITY

      While still adhering to federal regulations that require certain operational practices, TUD customers will benefit from flexibility created by operating the system primarily as a water supply system, with hydroelectric production as a secondary function. This flexibility will reduce water supply risk and improve certainty for Tuolumne County.

      Drought Mitigation & Wildfire Protection

      Due to recent droughts and other factors, in 2019, Tuolumne County was listed as California’s number one County at risk of wildfire . With that ever-increasing threat, the acquisition will improve our ability to safeguard the region.

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

      Worth the Investment

      TUD’s locally-elected Board believes this is a sound investment for our customers and Tuolumne County as a whole. Acquiring water system facilities means we would take on the costs associated with maintaining this aging infrastructure, and TUD customers will likely pay more for their water. We see the benefits of owning our water supply outweigh the higher operational costs.   TUD is currently evaluating how it will fund the higher operations and maintenance costs of the additional facilities, and the specific impacts this will have on customer bills. TUD will share this information when it is confirmed. TUD is committed to minimizing costs to the community.

      Frequently Asked Questions

      Our Water, Our Future

      The water you rely on comes through a complex and time-tested system that proves its value every time you turn on the faucet. It starts as mountain snowfall at elevations exceeding 9,000 feet, melting into the Stanislaus River in the springtime. From there, gravity delivers it through a complex system of ditches, flumes, and reservoirs (Pinecrest Lake and Lyons Reservoir) – much of it dating to the 1850s Gold Rush era. An engineering marvel of its time, our system has served our community well and is among the county’s most valuable shared assets.

      TUD owns and operates about 70 miles of historic ditch and flume system that conveys water from the PG&E Phoenix hydropower system to 11 water treatment plants and nearly 600 irrigation customers. Further, TUD owns and operates over 320 miles of a treated water distribution system that serves communities from Twain Harte to Jamestown. PG&E currently owns key elements of our water system, including Pinecrest Lake, Lyons Reservoir, and the Tuolumne Main Canal, but TUD is negotiating to bring these under local ownership and control.

      Unlike most water providers, TUD does not own the rights to the water we provide our customers, or key elements of the system needed to collect it from local watersheds. These assets are owned by PG&E. Having stated its intent to divest itself of these assets, PG&E and TUD are negotiating to transfer senior water rights, ownership of key water system elements, and accompanying hydropower facilities to TUD and its customers.

      Benefits to TUD customers can be summarized in four distinct areas:
      • A Dependable Water Supply
        Tuolumne County has zero water rights presently and has struggled with a dependable water supply for years. This is an opportunity to secure critically important water supplies for our customers now and in the future.
      • Local Control
        TUD customers understand that government functions best when it is closest to – and therefore most accountable to – its constituents. Our water security is too important to allow an outside entity to control.
      • TUD Customers First
        While still adhering to federal regulations that require certain operational practices, TUD customers will benefit from flexibility created by operating the system primarily as a water supply system, with hydroelectric production as a secondary function. This flexibility will reduce water supply risk and improve certainty of water availability.
      • Drought and Wildfire
        Due to recent droughts and other factors, in 2019, Tuolumne County was listed as California’s number one County at risk of wildfire (Source: California Department of Insurance’s, Availability and Affordability of Coverage for Wildfire Loss in Residential Property Insurance in the Wildland-Urban Interface). With that ever-increasing threat, the acquisition will improve our ability to safeguard the region.

      Over the next several months, as details of the acquisition agreement come into greater focus and are finalized, TUD will be more visible in the community. We are working proactively to help our customers understand this opportunity, the value we see in acquiring these assets, and the costs associated with it. We’ll also be listening to feedback from our customers to ensure any agreement we make is consistent with the values of Tuolumne County.

      TUD owns very limited water rights (about 1% of our total supply). The rest of the water our customers need is provided at no charge by PG&E under a contract that dates to 1983. Given PG&E’s intent to divest itself of the rights and other parts of our water system, TUD seeks to bring these under local ownership and control.

      The simple answer here is we don’t know. Any entity that takes ownership of these facilities –TUD or otherwise – will be responsible for the ongoing costs to operate and maintain the system. All the variables that have made it difficult to predict bill increases to customers if TUD acquires the assets would apply to this calculation, too.

      Beyond what another entity would pay for the assets, other unknowns include what they would expect to pay for system upgrades and enhancements, how much they would need to fund emergency repairs, the list goes on.

      One thing is for certain – we can expect that any non-TUD entity will also need to collect administrative costs and ensure a profit margin on top of it. As a not-for-profit, TUD does not have shareholders or the need to pay dividends. Our revenues must only cover the costs to continue delivering high quality, reliable water – a fact that benefits our customers and keeps their bills reasonable.

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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 negotiation that is estimated to conclude in mid-2022.

      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 plans to host multiple public forums to engage in a collaborative dialogue with interested ratepayers, the community, landowners, and other stakeholders. You may also submit comments online. We are eager for your feedback and welcome your input.