If the water gods shine on Nevada County as hoped, a 1926 dream of a deep, narrow and cold-water reservoir on the Bear River — possibly called Parker Reservoir — will begin taking shape now, 88 years later.
Nevada Irrigation District engineer Fred Tibbetts, in a 1926 report, is credited with pinpointing a general location for Parker Reservoir roughly southwest of the current site of what is now the Hansen Brothers gravel pit.
It is about midway between NID’s two other Bear River reservoirs: Combie Lake to the south and Rollins Lake to the north, and west of Colfax.
“Tibbetts ID’d Parker as the highest, best alternative for storage for the district, back in 1926,” said NID General Manager Rem Scherzinger.
“This guy Tibbetts was a smart man,” added NID board member John Drew. “He saw things before anyone else did.”
On Aug. 13, Scherzinger filed an application with the state for the right to store 110,000 acre-feet of water from the Bear River at Parker, and to divert another 112,000 acre-feet of water from the river at the same location for use in the NID system.
If granted, the 222,000 acre-foot water rights license would clear the way for NID’s first major water storage proposal since the Yuba-Bear Power Project in 1963-65.
“Right now, our raw water master plan shows that we will be at our maximum in 2032,” Scherzinger said. “We need to be able to execute this project so that we can continue to make the deliveries to the community to meet the growth needs of the district.”
Besides growth, the other driving factor is climate change, he said. Less anticipated Sierra snowpack and more rain interspersed with longer dry periods means NID must shift to collecting, capturing and storing more rainwater.
“The district right now has essentially one year’s worth of storage,” Scherzinger said. “We have to be thinking of having two years’ worth of storage, three years’ worth of storage, so we can weather these dry periods that are anticipated with climate change.”
Given that the State Water Resources Control Board approves NID’s water rights application, and given that California voters approve a proposed state water bond, NID senior engineer Doug Roderick said he will begin the first step in a five-year design project on Parker — if that is the final name.
Construction would take another five years, meaning that Parker, estimated to cost $150 million to $200 million, could be completed by about 2024.
“We can achieve co-equal goals here,” said Scherzinger, noting that Parker would likely offer abundant public recreation options and plentiful cold water habitat for fish.
“We can meet the water needs of the community and we can meet the area’s environmental and recreational needs.”
The proposed state water bond includes $2.7 billion for storage, most of which is earmarked for the Sites Reservoir in the Glen Colusa Water District and Temperance Flat in the San Joaquin Valley. NID hopefully will also get a piece of the pie.
“I’ll bet you a Pepsi that we get some of that money,” Drew said. “I can’t see them (the state), in this type of situation, not wanting to help.”
Drew noted that NID’s water projects have a lower per-acre-foot cost than others because NID’s gravity-based system means water does not have to be pumped.
Also, the district has a reputation for high-quality projects, he said.
“Sites has to pump water up to the reservoir, and then let it out,” Drew said, by way of example.
Roderick said his first task would be an aerial topographic survey to determine the exact optimal location of a dam for Parker. The survey is best done in late fall when the foliage is thinned, he noted.
“We own about 1,200 acres in this area,” Roderick said. Scherzinger added that NID already owns many properties in the potential project location, but “there could be more” needed, he said.
“We don’t know how big it will be,” Roderick said of the new reservoir.
NID officials say the advantage of building a new reservoir in the middle of two existing reservoirs is flexibility, both with water releases and with the hydroelectric power grid. For example, if the district needs more power to balance the grid at the hottest times of the summer day — from 1 to 4 p.m. — NID could release water from Rollins downstream to Parker.
“We can dump from one to another and still not lose the water to Combie,” Scherzinger said. “It’s fantastic.”
Also, Parker would offset water now being delivered from Rollins to NID customers in Placer County. In particular, bedroom communities for commuters to Sacramento are expected to grow exponentially in Lincoln, parts of which are within NID service area.
NID currently has 3,200 customers in Lincoln, but that is expected to double with the completion of Village I and growth along the Highway 65 corridor.
“If I can make my deliveries to Placer from here (Parker), then that water that I have up there (at Rollins), we can push down the other (Yuba River/Deer Creek) side (of the NID system) and into Scotts Flat,” Scherzinger said.
“This is for the next 100 years,” he said.
According to Scherzinger, the Bear River, with its headwaters up in the Sierra around the Bear Meadows vicinity, has adequate capacity to support more storage and diversion and still maintain a good flow.
“We had to go back through all the (historical) planning and say, ‘What were they thinking when they designed it?’” he said. “‘What can we do to add to it so that it makes sense?
“‘And, how do we carry it forward to make sure future generations are protected?’” he added. “Because clearly, we’re at that junction point.”
To contact Staff Writer Keri Brenner, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4239.
“We need to be able to execute this project so that we can continue to make the deliveries to the community to meet the growth needs of the district.”
NID General Manager Rem Scherzinger