Searching for ways to bolster Marysville's budget, the City Council this week said it will explore if the city has water rights that could be turned into revenue.

Council members Bill Simmons and Dale Whitmore have been appointed to an ad hoc committee to look at the potential for water rights funding to boost the city's budget. They are charged with researching the "ways and means by which the city can secure groundwater and surface water rights to which it may be entitled ..."

The idea first surfaced during a council workshop last month. At their most optimistic, council members talked about the possibility of selling water to Yuba City, which is under mandatory water restrictions.

But Simmons acknowledged last week the city is only in the very early stages of its investigation.

"The law says if a city has boundaries that are parallel to a water source, it has certain rights," he said. "We need to find out what that is on the Feather or Yuba rivers."

In addition, California Water Service, which owns and operates the city's water distribution system, is helping the city look into its groundwater rights, Simmons said.

"If we have these rights, perhaps we can join in on some of these water transfers," he said.

Formation of the committee comes as the city looks for ways to bolster its budget, specifically sources to help pay for annual debt service on vacant city-owned B Street commercial property. The city owes $481,000 in 2015-16 before the debt climbs to more than $630,000 in 2016-17 through 2036.

"If we could just sell so much of that water to Yuba City that would help us get out of debt," Simmons said. "We are just trying to find revenue to help the city get out of debt."

Marysville has a water supply contract with the Yuba County Water Agency that at one time was used to send Yuba River water to Ellis Lake. Water used to control the lake is the largest single water use within city government.

But the city has not drawn from the river in three years because of a broken pump and the lack of fish screens.

In an April memo to city officials, Curt Aikens, general manager of the Water Agency, listed steps that would have to be taken to resume pumping from the river. They include rehabilitating existing pumps and pipes, installing a fish screen, determining the amount of groundwater currently used in acre-feet and preparing environmental documents.

Transferring water "would be limited to the lesser of Ellis Lake consumptive use or the groundwater pumping quantity," Aikens said in the memo.

"The rough analysis here shows that such a program would cover only a very small portion of the $640,000 annual payment and it would be several years before any revenue would be available," the memo states.

But the committee will be looking beyond the existing Water Agency contract. Along with determining what rights might be available to the city, it will look at "how those rights can be perfected to permit the transfer, sale, exchange or other constructive use and disposition or water pursuant to those rights."

The committee will be in existence for a year and is required to report its findings to the City Council every 60 days.

Simmons acknowledged water rights is a complicated subject.

"It's likely we would have to get a water lawyer involved to see if it's possible to do," he said.

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