South Sutter Water District (SSWD) was established in May 1954 by a majority of landowners within the boundaries of the District and is located in the town of Trowbridge, California; to develop, store, and distribute surface water to reverse the effects groundwater pumping was having on a dwindling aquifer. South Sutter Water District’s service area encompasses a total gross area of 63,972 acres of which 6,960 acres are excluded for a net area of 57,012 acres of which approximately 40,107 acres are in Southern Sutter County and 16,905 acres are in Western Placer County.
South Sutter Water District is located along the western toe of the Sierra foothills just south of the lower reaches of the Bear River between the Camp Far West Reservoir and the Bear River’s confluence with the Feather River in southern Sutter and western Placer Counties, located within the North American Subbasin.
Within the next ten years the District was able to design, finance and construct a dam, conveyance facilities and distribution system to bring 80,000 acre feet of surface water to approximately 44,000 acres within the district.
In 1956, prior to the expansion of the Camp Far West Reservoir, approximately 20,955 acres (38% of the net SSWD area) was irrigated with approximately 109,000 acre-feet (af) of water. Approximately 90,000 af was pumped from the groundwater basin and the remainder from surface water sources. The development of surface waters, primarily enlarging Camp Far West Reservoir and developing a distribution system, was an effort by SSWD landowners to augment and develop alternatives to a declining groundwater table that was being lowered by private agricultural wells within the service area. The groundwater basin was steadily declining 1 to 3 feet, or by as much as 10,000 to 11,000 af, per year.
In 1964, Camp Far West Reservoir was completed on the Bear River to serve SSWD and Camp Far West Irrigation District. New conveyance canals and some low-pressure pipelines allowed SSWD to deliver 63,630 af of surface water to farms in the region. With the exception of severe drought years, surface water deliveries over time have ranged from 70,000 af to over 130,000 af per year.
The purpose of the District is to bring 80,000 acre feet of surface water on an annual basis into the District to stop further depletion of the ground water basin. The average delivery per year from 1965 through 2016 is approximately 103,311 acre feet. This includes the drought year of 1977 when no water was delivered and the Drought years of 2012 to 2015 when the District delivered about 50% of the normal deliveries. The District has been able to stabilize the ground water basin even though a majority of the landowners have to continue pumping from that basin yearly.
In order to finance the project the District secured two state of California (Davis-Grunsky) loans in the amount of $2,360,000 and one P.L. 984 loan from the Bureau of Reclamation, in the amount of $4,875,600. The District also received a grant for recreation from the State of California in the amount of $1,200,000 for recreational purposes at Camp Far West Lake i.e.: water facilities, sewage facilities, overnight camping and day use. The two state loans are paid off, one in January, 1991 and the other in January 1992. The Bureau of Reclamation gave the District the opportunity to buy back their loan for upfront cash of $1,005,461. The District was able to secure financing and proceed to buy back the loan thereby saving the District over $2,000,000 and fifteen years of payments. The new loan was paid off in July, 2000.
Today, the annual available supply from the Camp Far West Reservoir is fully allocated each year. This amount represents only a portion (approximately 2 af per acre) of the users’ demands. SSWD receives additional surface water from Yankee and Ping Sloughs, Coon Creek, Bunkham Slough, Markham and Auburn Ravines, King Slough, Pleasant Grove and Curry Creeks. SSWD’s boundaries encompass a total net area of 57,012 acres of which only 35,645 acres have been irrigated in any given year with a combination of surface and groundwater. As many as 13,000 acres are reportedly irrigated with only groundwater. Groundwater continues to augment surface water deliveries, particularly during drier years. SSWD has operated the district to conjunctively manage surface water and groundwater resources to maximize the use of its water resources. The groundwater basin underlying the SSWD service area has functioned as both a conjunctive supply with the surface water, and as an important and reliable supply to augment surface water during shortages.
Currently, there are only private groundwater wells in the service area. The basin has demonstrated a strong groundwater recovery rate during periods of high surface water availability.
In 1981 the District signed an agreement with Sacramento Municipal Utility District for construction of a 7 MW power plant at Camp Far West Dam. Power production started in the spring of 1985. The power plant payments are guaranteed by Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD). SMUD also pays the District a small royalty on power produced. The power is wheeled by PG&E to SMUD facilities in Sacramento.
In 1984 the District built Vanjop; a low head hydro power plant on the conveyance canal approximately 4 miles downstream from the Diversion Dam. The plant became operational in the spring of 1985. The District sold time warrants to finance this project. The power from this plant is sold to PG&E via a 12 KV line adjacent to the facility. The plant was paid off in 1990.
The recreation area of Camp Far West Lake is contracted by the district with a concessionaire to operate and maintain the recreation facilities at Camp Far West Lake. The facilities are open for public access year round.
Water Rights Settlement
In February 2000, SSWD, Camp Far West Irrigation District, and California Department of Water Resources (DWR) entered an agreement to meet the State Water Resource Control Board’s (SWRCB) water quality objectives (Phase 8). In exchange for up to 4,400 af of water from Camp Far West reservoir in each Dry Year and Critical Year, SSWD agreed to assume all responsibility for all Bear River water rights holders’ obligations to contribute to the implementation of the SWRCD water quality objectives for the Water Quality Control Plan for the San Francisco/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary (May 1995).