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The Past, Present and Future of Utica Water and Power Authority

Utica’s Mission Statement:

Utica Water and Power Authority is committed to preserve and protect the water of the Sierra Foothills for the vested interest of the communities in East Calaveras County by promoting collaborative efforts between its two member entities, Union Public Utility District and the City of Angels; to maintain the historical properties of the Argonauts’ original ditch system while advancing efficient management and technology; to deliver water to the communities served by using revenues generated from hydroelectric energy production; and to assure the quality and quantity of this precious resource for the best beneficial public use for generations to come.

 OVERVIEW OF UTICA WATER AND POWER AUTHORITY

Utica Water and Power Authority is a Joint Powers Authority that was formed in 1996 between the Union Public Utility District and the City of Angels Camp. A staff of 10 operate an intricate 27-mile-long water conveyance system consisting of Gold-Rush-era earthen ditches, wooden flumes and five reservoirs to move water from Avery to Angels Camp. That water serves the residential, commercial and agricultural needs of 10,000+ people. Utica also operates two hydroelectric power plants – one in Murphys and one in Angels Camp.

Utica holds pre-1914 water rights for 33,000+ acre feet of the North Fork Stanislaus River and provides untreated water supply to UPUD serving Murphys, Douglas Flat, Vallecito, Carson Hill and Angels Camp, as well as agricultural customers directly from the ditch. If one pictures 33,000 football fields covered with water, they can get a better scope of the volume.  A family of four uses one half to one-acre feet each year.

Utica’s water passes through Lake Alpine and Utica, Union and Spicer Reservoirs. However, much of Utica’s water supply falls as rain and snow in in the high country of Tuolumne and Alpine counties.

McKay’s Point Diversion Dam, built by the Northern California Power Agency and Calaveras County Water District near Arnold, was constructed in the 1980s as part of the North Fork Project. The total cost was close to $600 million. McKay’s diverts the majority of the North Fork Stanislaus River water into an 18-foot diameter tunnel that is 8 ½ miles long and terminates at the 252-megawatt Collierville Powerhouse at the end of Camp 9 Road near Murphys. Utica owns a tap in the Collierville Tunnel near Avery, which is a vertical shaft drilled into the large tunnel below ground. Since McKay’s elevation is higher than Avery, gravity creates “head pressure” that delivers water into Utica’s ditch system using gravity alone. The Tunnel Tap discharges water into the Upper Utica Canal, which is the last remaining remnant of an eight-mile canal / flume that used to stretch from McKay’s Stanislaus River Diversion to Avery. The Upper Utica Canal flows into Hunters Reservoir near Avery. From there, Utica’s canals and wooden flumes carry water along the wall of the North Fork Stanislaus River Canyon all the way from Avery to Murphys.

Utica’s longest wooden flume – called ¾ Mile Flume – near Forest Meadows was completely destroyed by the Darby Fire in 2001, cutting off the sole public water supply to more than 10,000 residents. Six other smaller wooden flumes were also destroyed by the Fire. It took 10 months to rebuild with the help from Cal OES an FEMA.

The Lower Utica Canal ends at the Murphys Forebay on a hill above Murphys. Near the Forebay, water is supplied to the Union Public Utility District (UPUD) Water Treatment Plan, which serves more than 2,000 customers. Additionally, Utica’s water is diverted into UPUD’s North Ditch and South Ditch, which serves more than 100 irrigation customers between Murphys, Douglas Flat, Vallecito and out Red Hill Road to Carson Hill. Water from the Murphys Forebay is released into a large penstock (large pipe) that runs hundreds of feet down a steep hill to spin a 7-foot diameter Pelton Wheel that powers Utica’s 3.6 megawatt Murphys Powerhouse, converting the water’s potential energy in mechanical and finally electrical energy. Built in the 1950s, the Murphys Powerhouse still uses many of the original components. Energy created there is interconnected to the PG&E grid, and water passing through the plant flows into the Murphys Afterbay. From there it is released into the Angels/Murphys Creek and flows through Murphys Park. Once the water leaves the afterbay, it is no longer under Utica control. Few people realize that without Utica, the creek in Murphys Park would be dry during the summer and fall months, since the natural watershed is seasonal. It is only the Stanislaus River water diverted by Utica that keep water flowing in the creek year-round.

Downstream of Murphys, Utica diverts a portion of the creek water using its Angels Creek Diversion Dam and the 5 cubic feet per second (37 gallons per minute) is released into Lower Angels Creek for environmental needs.

The File Flume, the longest flume on the Angels Canal/Flume system, can be seen from Murphys Grade Road and helps carry the water through the Upper Angels System, which flows through irrigated pastureland and into Utica’s Ross Reservoir near French Gulch Road. Ross Reservoir is the primary backup water supply for the City of Angels Camp, and is a critical asset in the event of an emergency. From Ross, Utica staff releases water into the Lower Angels Canal and it flows several miles until terminating in the Angels Forebay, which is on the hill above Angels Camp. Utica uses the Angels Forebay where to supply water to the City of Angels Camp’s water treatment plan and the Dogtown Ditch Users Association. However, the majority of the water from the Angels Forebay flows into Utica’s Angels Penstock, which supplies the Angels Powerhouse on Booster Way, along with agricultural customers. The large, gray penstock can be easily seen from the Highway 4 bypass and Murphys Grade Road.

In all, Utica’s water conveyance system is the source of water used to irrigate hundreds of acres of pastureland and crops between Murphys, Angels Camp and Carson Hill.

Utica’s Angels Powerhouse was built in the 1940s can produce up to 1.4 megawatts of power. Once water passes through the plant, it is released through a “tailrace” back into Angels Creek. Some of that water is provided to the Greenhorn Creek Golf Course for irrigation, however, the vast majority of the water is not consumed in Calaveras County. All unused water flows into New Melones Reservoir, and Utica no longer has the right to use/sell that water. The water IS used by agencies that have storage rights in New Melones, including the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, South San Joaquin Irrigation District and Oakdale Irrigation District.

HISTORY OF UTICA WATER AND POWER AUTHORITY

Utica Water and Power Authority (UWPA) traces its roots all the way back to the Gold Rush. The Union Water Company (UWC) was formed in 1852 to formalize efforts to bring water from Mill Creek (in Avery) and Angels Creek to serve large mining operations in Murphys and Angels Camp. By 1854, UWC extended its system to tap the North Fork of the Stanislaus River. In need of water storage in the high country, Union Reservoir was constructed in 1858, and that same year the company acquired Calaveras County Water Co., which had also built extensive water conveyance canals and flumes to serve the mines.

In the 1880s The Utica Gold Mining Co. (UGMC) took over the Union Water Company’s holdings, and in 1889 completed the construction of Lake Alpine, which increased water storage in the high country. One year later, Utica harnessed pressure of water falling from the Angels Forebay to operate air compressors, hoists and stamp mills used to crush ore (gold-bearing rocks) in Angels Camp mines. In 1895, UGMC built a small power plant in Angels Camp (the present powerhouse was built in 1941), and in 1899, the Utica Powerhouse was built in Murphys. By 1906, UGMC completed the construction of Utica Reservoir, just downstream of Union Reservoir. The final up-country reservoir to be built was completed in 1929 – the original Spicer Meadow Reservoir.

As the mining industry declined in the 1900s, an increasing amount of water was used for agricultural irrigation and residential/commercial consumptive use. However, in 1939, UGMC declared it only wanted to provide consumptive service to Angels Camp. This led to a legal dispute between UGMC and Murphys residents, which resulted in a settlement agreement that allowed a group called the Calaveras Water Users Association (now known as the Union Public Utility District) to purchase water from the Utica system to meet consumptive needs.

By the mid-1900s, most of the large mines in Calaveras County had closed. In 1946, Utica Gold Mining Co. sold the water conveyance system and powerhouses to Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E). Over the next 10 years, PG&E made substantial investments in the system, including building a new powerhouse in Murphys and upgrading the Angels Powerhouse. During the PG&E era, more than 20 employees were used to operate the system. In the late 1980s, PG&E was beginning the process of relicensing the project through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) – the license was set to expire in 1995.  During the relicensing process, the Northern California Power Agency (NCPA), which provides power to its member agencies outside of Calaveras County, filed a competing application for PG&E’s Utica and Angels projects. A group of community members in Murphys and Angels Camp objected to an outside agency taking control of the long-held water rights – and NCPA’s proposal to substantially reduce the amount of water from the Stanislaus River flowing through Angels / Murphys Creek. After a long negotiation between NCPA, the Calaveras County Water District and community stakeholders, the Utica Power Authority (UPA) was formed. UPA was a Joint Powers Authority with three members – CCWD, UPUD and Angels Camp. A settlement agreement awarded a portion of PG&E’s water rights NCPA (28 CFS), and the remainder was awarded to UPA (60 CFS).

In 2003, the Calaveras County Water District chose to leave the JPA, leaving only UPUD and Angels Camp as members. In 2013, Utica Power Authority was renamed to “Utica Water and Power Authority”. A small staff of 10 use advanced monitoring technology called “SCADA” to run the same system that took twice that number of employees to operate under PG&E ownership.

PRESENT AND FUTURE CHALLENGES

Aging Infrastructure

With some infrastructure more than 150 years old, the Utica water conveyance system and powerhouses are in urgent need of repairs and replacements and, a large infusion of funds is needed to avoid major system failures.

Regulatory Compliance

In addition to infrastructure, there is substantial regulatory compliance that must be met in order to continue operating and stay in compliance with FERC and the California Department of Safety of Dams. Between the two, Utica spends between $150,000 to $300,000 annually to stay in compliance. And these costs are expected to increase each year.

Historical Status

As Utica’s water conveyance system dates back to the 1850s, it is deemed historical, and certain portions of the system are protected by State and Federal Government, which limits what Utica can do when making repairs. An example of this is that Utica must continue replacing flumes using wood, because that is what the gold miners used, rather than rebuilding in metal or concrete, which would be fire-resistant. This protected status could be removed if Utica receives permission from all stakeholders and performs required mitigations.

Natural Disasters

There are several natural disasters that pose an ever-present danger, as Utica’s wooden flumes and earthen ditches systems are highly vulnerable to wildfires, landslides, tree falls and severe weather events. In 2001, the Darby Fire burned seven of Utica’s 24 wooden flumes and caused more than $4 million in damage to the system, along with cutting off the sole public water supply to 10,000+ people.

Power Sale Revenues

In an average year, Utica earns about $1.2 million in power sales, which makes up the majority of the annual operating budget. The second largest source of revenue is from contributions from JPA member agencies, UPUD and Angels Camp. Other sources revenue include fees from Utica’s 15 agricultural customers and lease revenues.

FERC Relicensing

Perhaps the biggest challenge facing Utica comes in 2033, when the Utica and Angels Hydroelectric Projects are due for relicensing. The relicensing process takes a minimum of five years to complete, and could cost millions of dollars.

Community Education and Awareness

Utica built a new website, www.uticawater.com, Facebook page www.facebook.com/uticawaterpower and is working with the Murphys Community Club and other stakeholders to post informational signs throughout the community to help share the Utica story. For more information, contact Utica staff at (209) 736-9419 or email admin@uticawater.com.

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