PG&E’s water giveaways short-sighted

Either repair the Miocene Canal or find another way to transport adequate water supplies

Hours after this newspaper went to press last Wednesday (June 26), a PG&E spokesman reached out to let us know that the utility soon would begin delivering water by truck free of charge to those contracted to receive allotments via the Miocene Canal.

As reported in last week’s three-story cover package (see “Dried up, desperate,” June 27), the upper portion of the historic water conveyance system is owned by PG&E and was destroyed during the Camp Fire. That cut off supplies to dozens of farms, ranches and other properties in Butte County’s eastern foothills, and also resulted in environmental consequences and potential changes to future wildfire suppression.

Those agricultural users and others had become desperate to quench their land—provide water to their crops and livestock—as the spring gave way to the North State’s parched summer months. Many of these operations purchased water from PG&E for so long that their contracts refer to miner’s inches, a Gold Rush-era measurement. Post-Camp Fire, however, the utility announced that it’s not going to repair the infrastructure.

PG&E maintains that it’s not contractually obligated to provide water, but that’s not our read on the documentation presented by members of the Miocene Canal Coalition during a meeting with utility representatives. Furthermore, we don’t believe that the company has begun the aforementioned water deliveries out of the goodness of its heart. (See this week’s follow-up story on page 9.)

The company has a well-established track record of looking out first and foremost for its bottom line.

PG&E’s water giveaways are a good start to addressing its customers’ needs, but they’re not a long-term solution and for some in the region the gesture is too little, too late. Farmers already have had to sacrifice orchards to sustain other, more lucrative crops with the little supplies on hand. Ranchers have incurred the costs of moving livestock to other regions or selling off herds that are unsustainable given the circumstances. Moreover, the deliveries are not equal to the volume received prior to the disaster.

Ultimately, if PG&E continues to turn its back on these longtime customers, the issue will be ripe for litigation. Adequately servicing them will require the company to shell out $15 million to repair the canal. That’s a drop in the bucket compared with liabilities it faces from the $16.5 billion in Camp Fire damages.

It appears that PG&E needs a reminder not only that its equipment sparked the fire, but also that the company is responsible for making things right. In this case, that includes either rebuilding this historic infrastructure or paying for another long-term solution.