Plans in place for a secure water future

Updated June 10, 2024
When it comes to water, it pays to plan ahead. You never know when that rainy day—or prolonged drought—may come.

Roseville and Placer County leaders are pursuing long-term solutions to bolster water supply reliability while accommodating rapid population growth.

“Roseville takes a holistic approach to water supply,” explained Roseville Water Utility Manager George Hanson. “We look at varied sources such as groundwater, alternatives to Folsom Reservoir and water conservation, and how we can be more efficient.

“With this approach, we’ve built a robust water supply. The challenge in the future [will be] that we need to anticipate events and needs to ensure our water supply.”

Roseville is Placer County’s largest city, with a population of about 155,000 that is expected to top out at 230,000 people—a 48 percent increase. So city leaders don’t need to plan for current residents but those to come.

“People want to live here,” Hanson notes. “It’s not just a great place to live but a great place to work with great-paying jobs. Roseville is a very vibrant and growing city.”

Water sources to serve new neighborhoods have already been secured as a condition of development. In addition, Roseville is experiencing a business boom.

“We’re seeing nearly 1,000 [new business] permits per year,” Hanson said. We need water for businesses and homes. We also need water for our overall quality of life—our parks, recreation, bike trails, and open space. Water plays a big role in all of that, too.”

Complicating growth and water need projections is a changing climate with longer droughts and earlier snowmelt.

“The question we ask ourselves: How can Roseville respond to extremely dry years?” Hanson said.

The city works closely with county, state, and federal agencies to secure its water future. The Placer County Water Agency, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the Army Corps of Engineers are among its partners.

According to the PCWA, the build-out population of West Placer County—the area that relies upon PCWA water supplies—is estimated to be near 500,000. That’s up from 337,000 in 2023.

The areas served directly by PCWA account for 192,000 people, with the rest being areas where PCWA serves wholesale water. Wholesale customers often have some of their water supplies, usually from wells.

Roseville and PCWA share common water sources and priorities; both rely on the American River for surface water and are dedicated to maintaining river and watershed health. They’re working together on long-term solutions for their water needs.

A major concern during prolonged drought is what happens if Folsom Reservoir’s water level drops so low that water stops flowing to water agencies downstream. An issue that nearly came to fruition at the end of 2021, a year marked by severe drought.

One potential solution is to construct a pipeline so Roseville can access PCWA’s water system upstream from Folsom Reservoir. PCWA diverts water before it hits Folsom, so this pipeline would protect Roseville from concerns about low water levels in Folsom.

“That way, we can access the water supply directly without relying on Folsom Reservoir,” Hanson says.

About 14 miles long, the pipeline would direct river water already contracted for use by PCWA and Roseville to a treatment plant in Placer County without having to pass through the reservoir. The project will require more than $100 million in federal, state, and local funding.

Another long-term solution is The RiverArc Project, which would bring water to Roseville and Placer County from the Sacramento River and a new treatment plant. The water would also help supply other parts of Sacramento County, which is experiencing rapid growth.

The Sacramento River is six times the size of the American River, yet 80% of the regional surface water supply comes from the American as the primary resource. Switching some demand to the Sacramento River would have a big benefit to the fishery, too. More water could flow down the American River, which is vital for a healthy habitat.

In 2023, during its early stages, the project received a $5.1 million grant from the California Wildlife Conservation Board, matched by approximately $1.2 million in funding from local RiverArc partners. The City of Sacramento and the Sacramento County Water Agency are also RiverArc partners. The project needs $250 million to $350 million in additional funding.

“One of the great advantages of this project is it would give us the ability to tap into the two main water sources for our region,” Hanson said. “We’re looking at what’s feasible and different alternatives during extreme drought, so then we can provide alternatives to create more reliability.”