Deliveries en route

Photo by Ashiah Scharaga

Cindi Williams (center) and her son, Brandon, and neighbor Laura-Lyn Burch stand before a 1,600-gallon tank the Williamses installed after the Camp Fire to provide water to their home. They anticipate receiving free water from PG&E soon.

Though 5,000 gallons isn’t a quarter of what Cindi Williams used to receive from the Miocene Canal, she’s desperate to get water not only for her home but also for her garden, grape vines and fruit trees, she told the CN&R.

“That would be a great help, compared to nothing,” Williams said. “We would still be really, really frugal with the household water, but our plants, the trees, they’re dying.”

Williams is one of the many longtime canal users now in talks with PG&E regarding free water and delivery to their properties.

In November, the Upper Miocene Canal—also known as “the flumes”—was destroyed by the Camp Fire, leaving two dozen contracted users, most of them farmers and ranchers, without water for their livestock and orchards, and, for some, their homes. Other residents living alongside the canal have reported additional impacts—the leaky system, which is about 150 years old, has sustained streams, ponds and wells that are now drying up.

PG&E confirmed that it will not repair the damaged portion of the canal because of the cost, with initial estimates reaching at least $15 million. After deadline for last week’s Cover story (“Dried up, desperate,” June 27), PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno told the CN&R that the utility will coordinate and schedule deliveries for up to 5,000 gallons per week per household starting this week.

This offer will remain until the rainy season, he added, unless another short-term solution is found before then. Butte County has been serving as a mediator between PG&E, Cal Water (which owns the Lower Miocene), water users and providers to work toward a solution. Their next meeting will be in mid-July.

“While these trucked water deliveries will not be able to provide water users with the volumes of water the canal could deliver,” Moreno wrote in a statement to the CN&R, “it will be of help for those with critical water needs while we continue exploring potential long-term solutions with the broader stakeholders.”

Moreno told the CN&R that the utility has encouraged users to secure other sources of water at times when the canal is not available, including during annual maintenance and times of natural disasters requiring repairs.

Earlier this week, the CN&R spoke with water users about the deliveries. As of deadline, Williams, who lives near Butte Valley, said PG&E had scheduled someone to visit her home and assess her water needs. She anticipated her first delivery would arrive next week. Since November, she has been paying $250 to $550 every month for water delivery.

Another contracted user, Kurt Albrecht, told the CN&R that 5,000 gallons per week could provide water for his family’s livestock at Chaffin Family Orchards. Currently, they are drawing from a private reservoir for the cattle’s needs.

However, he is still concerned because it’s “not going to make a dent in the orchard.” He estimates 20 acres of the family’s stone fruits will have to be sacrificed if the farm’s water needs are not met by next summer, and 200 acres of olive trees are going dry.

At a public meeting last month, several other families reported similar scenarios will take place at their properties.

In Williams’ opinion, PG&E has had a contractual obligation to deliver this water since the canal went offline. Her contract states: “In case of shortage of supply from whatever cause, and during the period of such shortage, PG&E will make such appointment of its available supply of water among its customers in what, in its sole judgment, is the most reasonable manner possible.”

In an email, Moreno said that, in PG&E’s view, this clause does not guarantee water delivery but defines its “ability to manage the amount of water delivered to users along the canal during times of low supply so that as many contracted customers as possible can receive some water.”