Drought decisions: Water district may choose landscaping and golf course over 40-year-old creek

Wildlife may end up suffering most

Deer Creek could vanish if officials divert its water source for use on landscaping and a golf course.

Deer Creek could vanish if officials divert its water source for use on landscaping and a golf course.


When Kathy Motz moved to her current El Dorado County home almost 40 years ago, she found herself amid trees, otters, waterfowl, beavers and a generous supply of groundwater. The source of this richness was Deer Creek, a small stream that flows from Cameron Park southwest to the Cosumnes River.

But Deer Creek, it turns out, is largely an artificial stream, created in 1974 by the El Dorado Irrigation District. At the time, it was looking for a place to send treated, clean effluent from its wastewater plant. Now, however, an increase in human population and irrigated lawns and gardens, as well as a thirsty private golf course, has the water district scrambling to meet the demand—and its managers want back the water from Deer Creek.

The district submitted a proposal in early March to discontinue the outflow from its facility into Deer Creek and, instead, send the treated water to residents and businesses in its service district for landscaping use. According to a February 26 story in the Mountain Democrat, much of the demand is coming from “Serrano Golf Course and subdivisions along Latrobe Road.”

The stream currently flows at about 1.2 million gallons per day, with slightly less than half of that flow produced by natural sources.

Historically, the stream ran dry in the summer. If the water district’s proposal is granted, the stream would revert to its former ephemeral nature, and the wildlife habitat that now depends on its full flow would wither and die, opponents to the water district’s proposal warn.

“Our wells will dry up, the wildlife that lives here will die or go away, and for what—to water a stupid golf course that only rich people can go to?” Motz said.

Robert Mitchell, a neighbor of Motz, says wildlife, including otters and ducks and bobcats and mountain lions, currently reside in the riparian habitat along the stream.

“Some will probably move away,” Mitchell said. “The rest will die.”

A meeting between the water district and residents along Deer Creek to discuss the matter was scheduled for last Friday. However, it was abruptly called off by the district on short notice, according to Motz. She said she believes the meeting was canceled after a reporter learned about it, but the district’s deputy general council Brian Poulsen declined to comment.

In an earlier interview, Poulsen told SN&R that residents and wildlife are as much a priority for the water district as is supplying the needs of urban landscapers in its service area. These, Poulsen says, include the Serrano Country Club golf course.

“It’s a balancing act,” he said.

The matter now lies in the hands of the State Water Resources Control Board, which is working with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to assess how reducing the outflow might impact the environment and residents along the stream. The department has suggested temporarily reducing Deer Creek to less than half-a-million gallons per day for a period of as long as a year and study the impacts.

“If we find that the reduced outflow doesn’t cause unreasonable harm to the riparian corridor along the stream, then hopefully we can consider making the reduction permanent,” Poulsen said.

Which is what Motz and her neighbors downstream fear:

“If we lose that water, we’re never getting it back.”