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SYRCL, Yubanet co-host town hall on ‘visitor impacts’

Over the past decade, visitation to the Yuba has increased dramatically. This rising visitation has created increasing concern among community members related to the health of the Yuba River.
Submitted by the South Yuba River Citizens League

From a release:

At 6 p.m. Wednesday the South Yuba River Citizens League and Yubanet will co-host a virtual town hall to discuss visitor impacts on the Yuba River and surrounding communities.

Over the past decade, visitation to the Yuba has increased dramatically. This rising visitation has created increasing concern among community members related to the health of the river. Organizations like SYRCL, as well as the Nevada County Board of Supervisors, Nevada County Sheriff’s Office, State Parks, Bureau of Land Management, and Tahoe National Forest, have fielded numerous calls and emails from affected citizens, along with proposed measures to mitigate impacts.

“We organized the town hall to so we can hear directly from the public about impacts they are experiencing,” said Melinda Booth, SYRCL’s executive director, in a news release. “Managing and addressing visitation on the Yuba is complex given that several different agencies manage the public lands, each of which has different opportunities and constraints. Add on top of that the fact that these public lands are intermixed with private lands.”

The town hall will begin with a brief presentation about this year’s statistics related to visitor impacts and a short statement from participating organizations. The floor will then be opened up for questions from the audience.

“The county looks at this as an important opportunity to learn more about community concerns and to help the public better understand what solutions and interventions are possible given the patchwork ownership of the river canyon,” said District 4 Supervisor Sue Hoek. “It will also inform the work the Yuba River Public Safety Cohort engages in to make the canyon safer for everyone.”

The town hall will also function to inform a survey SYRCL plans to launch later in September that will give community members a chance to provide additional feedback. The data collected will be presented to the cohort and distributed to the public via an online booklet in early November. It will also be used to inform future decisions about managing river use.

Those interested in attending can register here.

Source: South Yuba River Citizens League

Tahoe conservationists score court victory over Squaw Valley development

SACRAMENTO — California’s Third District Court of Appeals has sided with Sierra Watch and dealt a blow to development plans for Squaw Valley.

“Today’s decision marks a major milestone in the multi-generational commitment to conservation in the Sierra Nevada,” says Tom Mooers, Executive Director of the plaintiff group, Sierra Watch. “And it’s a great example of how we can work together to protect the places we love.”

A panel of three Justices based their decision on the project’s impacts on Lake Tahoe, fire danger, noise and traffic. The ruling reverses a 2018 trial court finding and, essentially, sends the erstwhile developer, Alterra Mountain Company, back to the drawing board.

It’s a major victory for conservationists in their ten-year struggle to stop massive development from transforming Tahoe. Alterra had sought to remake the region with a series of high-rise condo hotels, a 90,000 square-foot indoor waterpark — as wide as a Walmart and nearly three times as tall, and a rollercoaster.

The project, as proposed in 2015, would have taken 25 years to construct and added thousands of car trips to Tahoe’s crowded roads.

“Alterra was hell-bent on bringing Vegas-style excess to the mountains of Tahoe,” says Mooers of Sierra Watch. “It was a direct threat to everything we love about the Sierra.”

The battle began when KSL Capital Partners purchased Squaw Valley in 2010, citing the “great growth potential” of its new real estate asset. In 2015, the private equity firm made its plans public, asking Placer County to entitle development of a size, scale, and scope the region has never seen.

The conservation nonprofit Sierra Watch responded by building a grassroots movement to turn back the project and Keep Squaw True. Thousands of volunteers got involved. Hundreds spoke up at public hearings.

In November of 2016, in spite of overwhelming opposition, the Placer County Board of Supervisors voted to approve the project by a 4-1 vote— with the only ‘no’ vote coming from the Supervisor who represented Tahoe and Squaw Valley.

A month later, Sierra Watch filed its initial legal challenges, pointing out that Placer County’s approvals violated state law. Today, the court agreed.

The California Environmental Quality Act, better known as CEQA, requires Placer County to research and write an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to fully assess and disclose the negative impacts the new development would have on Squaw Valley and the Tahoe Sierra, and to lessen those impacts to the extent feasible.

The court, however, ruled that Placer County’s review was “inadequate”, taking issue with the the County’s disclosure and mitigation of the impacts on Lake Tahoe, fire danger, noise, and traffic.

California maintains a longstanding commitment to maintaining the clarity of Tahoe’s famously blue waters. CEQA even expressly designates the Tahoe Basin as an area of “Statewide, Regional, or Areawide Significance.” But, Sierra Watch argued, the County’s environmental review downplayed the impacts on the lake—especially how traffic from the new development would have added the pollutants that are steadily robbing the lake of its clarity.

The court agreed, ruling that “(T)he final EIR still never discussed the importance of Lake Tahoe or its current condition.”

The threat of catastrophic wildfire hangs over every mountain community in the Sierra Nevada. Even today, smoke clouds the skies over Squaw Valley, and one of the routes out of the Tahoe Basin, Highway 50, is closed due to the Caldor fire.

Yet Alterra’s development is proposed for a “very high fire hazard severity zone” with only one way out. If the project were built, it would take an estimated 10 hours and 40 minutes just to travel three miles out of the valley—and onto Highway 89, already at gridlock on crowded summer days. The court found that even this drastic figure was a substantial underestimation of evacuation times.

In oral arguments in July, Alterra’s lawyers acknowledged the danger, claiming residents and visitors could just “shelter in place” and that the EIR had adequately assessed the issue of evacuation.

The court, however, found otherwise, ruling that “(T)he EIR’s misleading estimation of evacuation times is still that–a misleading estimation of evacuation times that prevented informed decisionmaking. We find the EIR inadequate in this respect as a result.”

The court also found fault with environmental review of noise impacts and traffic mitigation.

Sierra Watch also challenged Placer County’s approval under California’s good governance law, the Brown Act. And, in a parallel decision, the court sided, once again, with Sierra Watch.

The Brown Act requires a governing body to “post an agenda containing a brief general description of each item of business to be transacted or discussed at the meeting” and, also, that key documents relevant to important decisions be made “available for public inspection.”

In the case of its Squaw Valley development and its impact on Lake Tahoe, Sierra Watch argued, Placer County officials did neither. Instead, the County negotiated, in secret, a last-minute deal with developers.

That deal was not part of any agenda. Nor was it made “available for public inspection”. The County argued that it did make the last-minute documents available to the public—by putting a memo in a filing cabinet the night before the hearing in a locked office building.

“The question for us, then,” writes the court in a separate ruling, “is whether the memorandum was ‘available for public inspection . . . at th[at] time.’ It was not. No document at the County clerk’s office, after all, was ‘available for public inspection’ at 5:40 p.m. on November 14, 2016 — a time when the clerk’s office was closed.”

The court also held that the Board’s agenda for the meeting was, according to the decision, “inaccurate and misleading.”

Sierra Watch is represented by Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger LLP, a public interest law firm specializing in government, land use, renewable energy, and environmental law.

“We’re proud to play our role in helping Sierra Watch hold officials accountable to the law and protect California’s invaluable natural resources,” says Amy Bricker, an attorney at the firm.

Looking ahead, Alterra could seek a re-hearing; they could appeal to the California Supreme Court.

Meantime, conservationists are celebrating their victory and re-committing themselves to what, so far, has been a ten-year effort.

“This is great news for Tahoe and everyone who has stood with us to defend our mountain values,” says Mooers of Sierra Watch. “But our goal was never to win a lawsuit. Our goal has always been to protect our Sierra resources for future generations.”

“And we feel like we’re just getting started.”

Source: Sierra Watch

Release: Authorities investigate marijuana grows for environmental crimes

 

From a press release:

On Tuesday, The Nevada County Sheriff’s Office Special Investigations Unit, along with Nevada County Cannabis Compliance, California State Water Resource Board, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Cal Fire and California State Parks, executed several marijuana search warrants.

Over the past several months the Sheriff’s Office has been investigating numerous marijuana cultivation sites that appear to have severe negative environment impacts, including dangers to public waterways and fish and wildlife.

During the search warrant executions, authorities targeted two locations in the 18000 block of Gaston Road — one in the 21000 block of Erin Pace and the other in the 21000 block of Highway 49. During the investigations, dozens of water code, and fish and game code, violations were noted, including discharging waste into waterways, negligent waste discharge requirements, oil and/or petroleum discharge into waterways, illegal water theft/diversion from a public waterway, trash and debris introduced into waterways, and marijuana cultivation within 100 yards of a Class 1 stream.

Both Erin Place and the Highway 49 locations bordered the Wolf Creek Class 1 stream. Detectives located three water pumps that were taking water from the stream and feeding large water storage tanks that were used for watering the marijuana gardens. Erin Place had a gas-powered water pump with a 2-inch water hose running from the creek to a storage tank approximately 200 yards away. The water pump, along with four gas containers, were within several feet of the stream. There was also a burnt pickup truck which had caught fire within several yards of the creek.

Dozens of yards of topsoil, along with numerous open containers of hazardous fertilizers, were also located within close proximity of watersheds, posing a real pollution threat to the public water come the winter rainfall season or any excessive water runoff. All of the locations contained fire hazards with unsafe electrical practices, including running generators, exposed electrical cords on top of dry weeds and pine needles, and open gas cans.

Detectives contacted approximately 12 people at the gardens who were all in violation by not obtaining the proper permits to conduct such large operations. One of the gardens had a constant running water hose, wasting water at a time of severe drought.

At the conclusion of the operation, over 5,000 marijuana plants were eradicated and over 30 felony violations were identified. Four criminal cases will be filed with the Nevada County District Attorney’s Office, along with the state water board and Fish and Wildlife, once the investigation is complete.

Sheriff Shannan Moon is committed to identifying egregious marijuana grows that present serious environmental concerns and a danger to the community. There is a pathway for permitted and legal marijuana cultivation through the Nevada County Community Development Agency. Harm to the watershed and environment will be taken seriously and dealt with appropriately.

Source: Nevada County Sheriff’s Office

1 million gallons of water lost to NID, returned to Wolf Creek

The Nevada Irrigation District lost nearly 1 million gallons of raw, untreated water back into Wolf Creek Sunday morning.

According to Public Information Officer Tomi Riley, the district learned that the Tarr Ditch, an irrigation canal used to transport raw water for 115 customers in the Penn Valley and Wolf Mountain area, was going dry around 7 a.m. Sunday.

Riley said upon investigation, an operator found damage to a spill structure used to uptake water along the canal.

“We definitely had vandalism at Tarr Ditch, which caused the water to go out from intake back into the creek,” Riley said.

Riley said the district currently categorizes the incident as vandalism as opposed to water theft, although 1 million gallons of water was “lost” over the four hours between learning about the damage and repairing it.

“We lost about 1 million gallons,” Riley said. “Instead of going into our intake to provide water to the irrigation canal, (the water) went down the creek.”

The structure that was damaged allows the district to pull water from the creek and send it up canals. Riley said the million-gallon amount was determined by the rate of the water flow and the time it took to repair the damage.

“We were notified at 7 a.m. and we were able to fix it by 11 a.m.,” Riley said.

Riley said although the district lost the water, it was not necessarily wasted.

“It’s not lost to the environment, it’s lost to us for our use,” Riley explained.

Riley said the 115 agricultural customers had either a low amount or no water during a portion of the day on Sunday.

NID has not had to deal with vandalism and damage to its infrastructure before. The district is investigating the incident but did not specify whether the Sheriff’s Office was involved, Riley said.

“Internally, there’s an investigation to understand what happened and what we can do to prevent it in the future,” Riley added.

Riley said NID oversees 500 miles of canal, so cameras used to keep watch are positioned at specific areas of interest.

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com

No state monitor for mine: Water quality board to rely on Rise Gold for regular reports, environmental assurances

The next stage of the possible reopening of the Idaho-Maryland Mine hinges on the release of a draft environmental impact report, started last year by Raney Planning & Management.

If that report states the Rise Gold Corp. project poses no “significant” risk to taxpayers, the company will move one step closer to receiving the limited threat general discharge permit from the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board — a requirement to operate the mine.

The specific permit Rise Gold hopes to acquire would allow for 3.619 million gallons (5.6 cubic feet per second) of water to enter Wolf Creek every day.

According to the project’s hydrology report, Rise Gold Corp. anticipates 1.224 million gallons (1.9 cubic feet per second) will be pumped to the surface from inside the mine in a settling pond on a daily basis. The report estimates the mine will consume 123,000 gallons of groundwater daily through water vapor used in ventilation, cemented paste backfill, dust control and due to gold concentrates being transferred off site. The rest — 1.101 million gallons of “underground mining service water” — will go to Wolf Creek.

Although mining requires blasting rock, which contains various elements, to extract precious metals and minerals, Rise Gold has promised to return the water to Nevada County residents in better condition than it entered.

Water removed from the site would be treated through aeration followed by filtration through a manganese dioxide filter in a man-made pond on the site before an estimated 500-1,200 gallons per minute are discharged into Wolf Creek.

The company behind the mine’s tentative reopening, and its CEO Ben Mossman, have committed to removing the arsenic in the sand tailings at the mine’s Centennial site. According to Mossman, the state’s Department of Toxic Substances will oversee the company’s “voluntary” clean up, left over from older mining practices that ended in 1956.

Mossman said he trusts his hydrologists, but that the state’s water control board takes measures to keep corporations like Rise Gold Corp. accountable.

NO STATE PAID HYDROLOGIST

John Baum, an assistant executive officer at the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board, called his employer a regulatory agency that enforces the water quality laws of California. The water control board works with the identified dischargers at a site to ensure compliance with those laws.

Baum said the permits establish expectations for the company’s self-monitoring and testing of those discharges to protect California at large.

“The permitting process requires that the discharger understand their site, the associated hydrology, and constituents within the water proposed or being discharged,” Baum said. “The frequency, locations, and constituents to be sampled are tailored for each site.”

Baum said the discharger may hire consultants to prepare documents for the permit application and to meet the requirements once the permit is issued. Those consultants must meet substantial qualifications expectations.

Ultimately, Baum said there is no state-paid hydrologist that will be monitor the mine on a regular basis.

“The discharger — and their contractor — developed documents that are then submitted to our technical staff for review to ensure compliance,” Baum said. “If a discharger is out of compliance with the regulatory requirements, we start with warnings, but there are increasingly punitive actions we utilize to persuade them to obey.”

Baum said his organization prefers to “cooperate” with dischargers, but will issue financial penalties “when the situation dictates doing so.”

Baum said the water quality control board breaks mine sites into three categories: active, inactive/closed, and inactive/abandoned mines.

“There are likely hundreds of old, inactive and abandoned historical mine sites of all shapes and sizes in the region that aren’t documented,” Baum said when asked how many mines the Central Valley Water Quality Control Board oversees.

His staff knows of three active mines in Nevada County under permit: Hansen Brothers Enterprises Greenhorn Creek operation (sand and gravel), RidgeRock Quarry (crushed stone and aggregate), and the French Corral Mine (gold).

Baum said there are a number of other mines which are either inactive or legacy clean-up sites where the water board has a regulatory oversight role.

“Inactive sites may also be a cleanup site if water quality issues have been identified,” Baum said.

The legacy clean-up sites are: Empire Mine State Historic Park, Idaho-Maryland Mine project, Lava Cap Mine, Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park, North Star Water Treatment Facility (for both the North Star Mine and the Drew Tunnel), Spanish Mine and the Spenceville Mine.

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com

Drought impacts: Tahoe likely to drop below rim in 3 months

The water level on Tuesday at Regan Beach in South Lake Tahoe.
Photo by Bill Rozak / Tahoe Daily Tribune

After two consecutive dry winters, Tahoe’s lake level is sitting a little over 1.5 feet above its natural rim — a threshold the alpine lake is forecasted to drop below in the next three months.

And while the rise and fall of Lake Tahoe’s water level is cyclical in the short-term (with evaporation and downstream flow offsetting spring runoff filling the lake each year) and the long-term (the lake has fallen below it’s natural rim over 20 times in the last century since data collection began), experts are concerned by the severity of the current drought and its impacts on water supply, wildfires and wildlife.

To start, it’s the third driest year in terms of precipitation from melted snow and rain in 111 years, reports Chad Blanchard, the Federal Water Master responsible for upholding the legal mandates of Tahoe’s water flow.

According to the 11 Snow Telemetry (SNOTEL) weather stations in the basin, cumulative precipitation currently sits at 23.6 inches — 53% of average and just shy of the 22.6 inch record-low for this time of year.

Evaporation — which accounts for the loss of 55% of the six feet of reservoir water stored between the lake’s natural rim and the Tahoe City dam — continues to outpace inflow, which was low this spring due to below-average snowpack and ground absorption from dry soil conditions.

To a much lesser degree, water is lost from the lake due to release from the dam to meet downstream water demands.

“Floristan rates are the required rates of flow we have to meet year round. Those are the flows that meet power generation, municipal, industrial, and agricultural demands. That’s the way it’s been since 1908,” explains Blanchard. “If natural flow does not meet those rates and we have water in storage, we have to release that water legally to meet those rates.”

The release this spring of additional water credits banked from previous years for downstream recipients also accounted for a marked drop in the lake’s level.

A recent forecast predicts that in three months, the lake will drop a foot and a half, bringing it below its natural rim, says Blanchard. All but three inches of the drop from release downstream will be from evaporation. Though rainfall or higher evaporation rates could impact this timeline, falling below the rim could cause issues for downstream demands.

“There will be some impacts to downstream users this year, but they will be fairly limited because of carry-over storage that we had, however, going forward will entirely depend on what happens next year since our carry-over storage has been significantly reduced or depleted,” says Blanchard. “We could have a big winter and hit the reset button and be done with drought talk until the next cycle or we could be in deeper.”

The water level is low at Regan Beach in South Lake Tahoe.
Bill Rozak / Tahoe Daily Tribune

Ecological balance

There are a number of consequences the current drought conditions and low water can have on the ecological balance of the basin and beyond.

“The low water conditions are probably affecting the growth of something called metaphyton, a sinuous, free-floating weedy kind of algae that occurs in strands particularly when we have warm water conditions as we do now, and when lake water levels are low it tends to get washed up on the beaches particularly on the South Shore,” notes Geoff Schladow, director of the U.C. Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center. “We think it’s going to be happening more and more this coming summer. You are going to see that and smell that. There will be more bugs in the air because of it, and suddenly Tahoe’s beaches are not these wonderful things that we like them to be.”

Without inflow from Tahoe into the Truckee River diluting nutrients and contaminants, Pyramid Lake, located downstream and northeast of Reno, will likely experience higher concentration of urban runoff and discharge from wastewater treatment plants in Reno and Sparks, adds Schladow.

Additionally, streams flowing into Tahoe that serve as spawning grounds for the kokanee salmon, including Taylor Creek, may trickle out upstream of Tahoe, forcing the fish to lay their eggs in the less-than-ideal shallow waters near beaches.

Though drought conditions often limit food and water sources for bears, forcing them into unusual places like neighborhoods, the bear activity on the Nevada side of the lake has been average this year. Between June and mid-July, the Nevada Department of Wildlife received 66 bear-related calls, ranging from sightings to reports of the creatures on properties. By comparison, a natural food shortage last year led to a spike in bear-related calls totaling 171 in just June and July.

“If this prolonged drought continues, this could change, and it could lead to more wildlife interactions in neighborhoods as wildlife searches for food and water,” cautions Ashley Sanchez, NDOW public information officer.

Wildfire risk

The hot, dry conditions in the basin have, not surprisingly, put the Tahoe Basin at a high-risk for wildfires, though so far there have been no major blazes.

“One of the things specifically around the basin that we’ve noticed is that the fuel moisture — the amount of moisture in the plants and trees — is very, very dry compared to the normal conditions this time of year,” explains Brian Newman, division chief for the Cal Fire Amador-El Dorado Unit. “We’re roughly four-to-five weeks ahead in regards to our drying cycle as we would be in a normal year.”

Though fuels reduction work continues throughout the basin, Newman notes that a vast majority of fires in the basin continue to be human-caused, whether started by a cigarette tossed on the ground or a spark from a trailer chain dragging on the road.

“Fortunately, we haven’t had anything major as far as fires in the basin so far, but we’ve had quite a bit of ignitions, and even the small fires we’ve had have burned pretty hotly and more than they should this time of year. We’re definitely noticing that difference,” says Newman.

Fire officials urge visitors and locals alike to visit www.tahoelivingwithfire.com to stay up-to-date on the current fire danger and red flag warning.

Rising temperatures

Rising temperatures in the 90s over the past week have Tahoe residents concerned about more than just their lack of air conditioning.

“We obviously have a huge amount of climate variability in our region, but it is very disconcerting because what we know about our observed climate and our modeled future climate is that these kinds of temperatures are going to be more normal going forward,” says Tim Bardsley, hydrologist at the National Weather Service in Reno. “The precipitation we don’t know as much about — how that’s going to change or not — but we are confident about the temperature change. That alone exacerbates drought. It increases our evaporation. It increases our water demands.”

Unfortunately, notes Bardsley, there isn’t a great mechanism to accurately predict long-range precipitation and how this drought might play out.

“A lot of this is probably tied in with climate change,” agrees Schladow. “Just looking at the data that is collected every 15 minutes on the lake level, we can see going back a 100 years that we’re starting to get these highs and lows more frequently. In the past, it didn’t change that much. Now it goes from a high to a low in literally two years.”

A big concern, says Schladow, is for lakes and reservoirs across California that are more susceptible to water loss, like Shasta Lake, which is facing its lowest level in at least 44 years.

While Tahoe can be filled to the brim after one good winter — like the drought-busting 2017 season which filled the lake to the brim and spilled more down the Truckee — most lakes aren’t so lucky.

“If we have another dry winter, we’ll get some increase in water, but not what Tahoe needs to stop it from going below the natural rim again next year. The bigger problems are for lakes elsewhere in California that are more prone to water level loss than Tahoe,” notes Schladow. “If there is a dry winter, then there really is an incredible water crisis looming.”

Claire McArthur is a writer for Tahoe Magazine, a sister publication of The Union

NID enhances conservation measures by imposing fines

With a mandatory 20% water-use reduction in place, the Nevada Irrigation District Board of Directors on Wednesday discussed the realities of enforcing drought-related restrictions, opting to impose fines for violators.

A resolution adopted by the board lays out a progressively financially punitive course of action in response to excessive or wasteful water use.

The administrative citations begin with a written warning that will specify a date and time by which a person can correct their violation. If the deadline is not met, NID may issue a second administrative citation. If the second violation takes place within 12 months of the first, the district will charge $250 for each. If a third administrative citation is issued within 12 months, then the district demands $500 for each violation cited. A fourth violation, and the individual responsible must pay NID $1,000 for each violation cited.

Successive violations will warrant the district suspending or limiting deliveries to the property, as well as “referring the matter” to the Nevada County District Attorney’s Office or Placer County.

The board said the intent behind the fines was to educate those who violate the restrictions NID introduced to customers via Resolution 2021-21, meant to escalate drought response and enhance conservation measures.

“Fine fees and penalties sound draconian, but the true intent is to provide warnings and education,” Operations Director Chip Close said. “In the last drought we found that is one of the most successful paths we can take.”

According to Public Information Officer Tomi Riley, the district implemented fining authority during the 2013 to 2016 drought, but never collected.

“The emphasis was on education and not fines,” Riley said. “Usually a warning letter and education is all it takes to get conservation compliance. I am not aware of actually implementing any fines in the last drought.”

Riley said the district reserves the right to fine in the case of violations, but will only exercise that right if individuals ignore repeated warnings.

“We’re not trying to go after those who didn’t quite hit their 20% (treated water use reduction) target,” Riley said. “We need the fine authority for the obvious abusers.“

NOT ENOUGH WATER

Riley said NID’s raw water customers order what they need for agriculture in advance each year. The 20% reduction is based on the customer’s usage in 2020, with the typical agricultural water season beginning in April and ending in October.

“Farmers know how much water they need and order before April,“ Riley explained. “If you haven’t ordered raw water like you were supposed to in April, you can’t until the drought restriction is lifted.”

Riley said NID will not be offering fall water sales this year in order to optimize carryover storage for next year. The district will also not be accepting any new raw water customers.

“We can’t,” Riley said. “We don’t have enough water.”

According to a staff report prepared by Close, “severely dry hydrologic conditions“ combined with insufficient snowpack runoff call for a policy-assisted collective tightening of the district’s belt.

Scarcity means the district is trying to secure literal and financial leaks wherever they pop up, Riley said.

Riley said customers have reported unlawful water theft from in-district hydrants, but the district is unsure how much water they lose each year to this kind of leak.

“Given these trucks are pulling up to fire hydrants throughout the district, it is difficult to police and difficult to determine how much is stolen,” Riley said. “Those that do it illegally have not applied for nor got a meter from us. They are often taking their license plates and other identifying markings off their truck for the time they are stealing the water.”

Close said holding people accountable for water theft is a particular challenge because the agency lacks the interface required to deliver educational messaging out of district. Additionally, NID lacks the kind of power wielded by law enforcement agencies.

“(The resolution) was not drafted with the theft issue in mind because we don’t have a personal relationship with those people,” Close said. “We have employees issuing citations to tenders who are not complying with the rules.”

Division 5 Director Rich Johansen said the fine amounts were appropriate for customers, but said outsiders illegally transporting NID water outside of the district should be met with higher financial penalties.

“We do have a moral obligation to do the right thing regardless of our inclination,” Johansen said, acknowledging the district’s mission to protect and conserve water.

Close said the district uses 10 fire hydrants as water filling stations for individuals or entities purchasing water from out of district. To prevent water theft, Close said NID considered locking the hydrants but faced legal repercussions if for some reason a locked hydrant proved unyielding during a fire-related crises.

General Manager Jennifer Hanson said it is hard to for any agency to deal with misdemeanor level offenses because they are low priority.

“To address higher level criminal theft without any law enforcement powers, we need to coordinate with the local pubic safety department,” Hanson said.

Division 2 Director Chris Bierwagen said that a water truck with a 4,000-gallon tank cannot physically sell over $10,000 of water — the financial minimum for a felony — so if water thieves were to be held financially accountable, it would be on their second offense.

Johansen suggested that water trucks from authorized vendors be given an identifying sticker.

NID attorney Dustin Cooper said the board may have the option of adding an “unlawful acts” addendum to the resolution to hold those illicitly transporting water out of district accountable.

Cooper said staff will be in conversation with the Nevada County sheriff and district attorney.

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com

‘This is not OK’: Organizers mobilize in light of Rise Gold survey

Mine protesters look over a map indicating areas that Rise Gold could mine if allowed to reopen the Idaho-Maryland Mine. Rise Gold’s holdings stretch from East Bennett Street, to the Glenbrook Basin and the edges of downtown Grass Valley.
Photo: Elias Funez

One hundred and ten people signed up to protest at six different locations around Nevada County on Thursday to spread information about the potential risks of reopening the Idaho-Maryland Mine.

Traci Sheehan helped organize the event to get petitions signed and distribute anti-mine signs, a yellow-and-black accessory for yards in the area. Sheehan, who worked to oppose Centennial Dam three years ago as coordinator for the Foothills Water Network, said the public-facing event was meant to counter any traction Rise Gold may have gained after publishing survey results she said are the antithesis to the community’s true, overwhelming opinion.

Sheehan said she was unsurprised by the Rise Gold-funded survey results — which found over 60% of the county supports the mine’s reopening, using a 500-person sample size — but not because she knows people personally who are vocal about their support.

Local cannabis cultivator Wade Laughter talks to people in front of Valentina’s Organic Bistro Thursday morning about the impacts associated with reopening the Idaho-Maryland Mine.
Photo: Elias Funez

Christy Hubbard, a resident who lives close to the Idaho-Maryland Mine site, said she believes Rise Gold’s intent behind the survey was to influence more than illuminate.

The survey had the opposite of Rise Gold’s intended effect, Hubbard said, attributing the recent growth of the region’s longtime Community Environmental Advocates group to the survey. Hubbard said she is grateful people have been galvanized by what she called obvious misrepresentation.

“People were like, ‘This is not OK,’ and it catalyzed the opposition,” Hubbard said.

Sheehan said the group has grown “exponentially” over the last month.

RISK VERSUS GAIN

Hubbard and Sheehan, both environmental activists, said the mine makes little sense for the community when one tries to weigh the potential risk to potential gains.

Hubbard said she is grateful this is a nonpartisan issue, and that columnists who contribute regularly to The Union who she describes as conservative have come out against this business venture.

Bob Hubbard talks to people and gets signatures from those opposed to reopening the Idaho-Maryland Mine. Hubbard has a home in the area and says his water well would be impacted by the mine.
Photo: Elias Funez

Ben Mossman, president of Rise Grass Valley and CEO of Rise Gold Corp., has said misinformation has appeared in the newspaper about the mine. He said the mine will create 600 local jobs, and employ 312 people at full operation, with two-thirds of these positions projected to be filled by existing local residents.

“New local spending of $50 million per year will create an additional 300 indirect jobs in our community and bolster local businesses,” Mossman said.

Hubbard said the mine would bring large risks against small benefits.

Laura Gagliasso has lived a quarter-mile from the Idaho-Maryland property on East Bennett Road for the last seven years. She said her interest in the issue began after she received a letter from Rise Gold saying that her well could possibly be affected by mining activity in the area.

Mossman has said that only wells near the Old Brunswick Mine could be affected.

“Rise has proposed to connect the entire East Bennett neighborhood to NID potable water and pay the water bills for current residents who choose to switch,” Mossman stated.

Gagliasso is also concerned about noise levels, something she got a taste of during Rise Gold’s period of exploratory drilling.

“It was 24/7,” Gagliasso said.

Organizers in front of Three Forks in Nevada City collect signatures in opposition of Rise Gold’s plans to reopen the Idaho-Maryland Mine.
Photo: Elias Funez

Beyond the incessant noise, Gagliasso said traffic is another community concern. She said that her community has gotten a taste of the noise and traffic to come over the course of the Loma Rica Ranch project, and they do not want seconds.

Gagliasso said when the mine was shut down 70 years ago, the county’s Board of Supervisors zoned the region for “light industry” and new homes were built progressively closer to the retired mine premises.

Finally, Gagliasso said she takes particular issue with Rise Gold’s main selling point being the creation of jobs for the community.

“How many people in Nevada County want to work one mile underground?” Gagliasso asked. “Do you know any Nevada Union high schoolers whose mission in life is to work in a mine?”

Gagliasso called the land the mine occupies “a scarred piece of forest,” and said she hopes the county supervisors will encourage and support light industry there that will employ youth.

“I don’t disagree that we need jobs,” Gagliasso said.

A signature is collected at an anti-mine information booth set up in front of Valentina’s Organic Bistro Thursday morning.
Photo: Elias Funez

Tables were located outside of Valentina’s Bakery, both Grass Valley Flour Garden locations, Natural Selection, Gaia Soap Supply and both SPD locations.

Sheehan is grateful for all of the community’s support, but said she was especially moved by business owners like those of Gaia Soap Supply who explicitly came out against the mine’s rehabilitation.

Sheehan said the community is rightfully concerned about how their quality of life will be affected by an active mine.

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com

Tahoe clarity report: Readings fall within average range

Lake Tahoe’s water clarity measurements, which are indicators of the health of the watershed, averaged 62.9 feet through 2020, the UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center and the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency announced earlier this month.

Lake Tahoe’s clarity peaked in February 2020, when it was deeper than 80 feet. It was at its lowest in mid‐May, when it measured slightly more than 50 feet. These readings were within the average range of the last decade.

Average clarity in 2020 was just slightly better than the previous year’s average of 62.7 feet. Clarity has been measured by UC Davis researchers since the 1960s as the depth to which a 10‐inch white disk, called a Secchi disk, remains visible when lowered through the water. Because lake clarity measurements vary from day to day and year to year, managers and scientists remain focused on long‐term trends as an indicator of the lake’s health. Measurements show Lake Tahoe’s annual clarity has plateaued during the past 20 years. Despite this progress, summer clarity continues to decline by more than a half‐foot per year.

“While there is a good understanding of how fine clay particles and tiny algal cells reduce clarity, the biggest challenges are in reducing their presence in the surface water,” said Geoffrey Schladow, UC Davis’ Tahoe Environmental Research Center director. “Here climate change, and in particular the warming of the surface water, is exerting an undue influence.”

A recent review of clarity data by the Tahoe Science Advisory Council reaffirmed the understanding of main drivers of clarity loss. The council commissioned a panel of scientists from regional academic and government research institutions, which concluded that fine sediment particles and algae continue to be the dominant variables affecting Tahoe’s clarity. They recommended that water quality agencies continue to focus on reducing fine sediment and nutrient loads.

Past UC Davis research and the council’s report pointed to several other factors affecting Tahoe’s famed clarity. Climate change is altering precipitation and snowmelt patterns, increasing the temperature of the lake, and impeding deep lake mixing. Such mixing in late winter can bring cold, clear water up from deep in the lake, which improves clarity.

In 2020, the mixing was extremely shallow and contributed to the lack of improvement.

“Adaptive management is crucial when confronting evolving threats like climate change, invasive species, and expanding visitation rates in the Tahoe Basin, but it is an approach that requires targeted data to assess response to changing conditions and management actions,” said Alan Heyvaert, past Tahoe Science Advisory Council co‐chair and Desert Research Institute associate research professor.

“This council report demonstrates the value of continued investment and innovation in sustained monitoring and assessment at Tahoe.”

DOCUMENTING CHANGES

Lake Tahoe is known around the world for its water clarity and cobalt blue color. Historically, clarity averaged about 100 feet. A development boom in the mid‐20th century brought about unintended environmental impacts, including reduction of the lake’s pristine clarity.

For decades, researchers have been documenting changes in the lake and the research has informed policymakers and stakeholders on management strategies to protect the lake and stabilize its decline in clarity.

In 2020, UC Davis scientists took 27 individual Secchi readings at Lake Tahoe’s long‐term index station. Using technology beyond the Secchi disk, researchers continue to refine their understanding of lake physics and ecology to determine the evolving causes of clarity change.

The states of California and Nevada are actively working to restore average lake clarity to its historic 100 feet. Under the Clean Water Act, the Lake Tahoe Total Maximum Daily Load is a science‐based plan to reduce the amount of fine sediment and nutrients entering the lake by reducing pollution through improved roadway maintenance and erosion control on roadways and private properties.

More than 80 organizations, including government agencies, nonprofits, and research institutions, are working collaboratively with scientists to improve Lake Tahoe’s water clarity and ecological health under the Lake Tahoe Environmental Improvement Program, which is one of the most comprehensive, landscape‐scale restoration programs in the nation.

“Regaining Lake Tahoe’s water clarity is a commitment we all share, and together we are making a difference,” said Joanne S. Marchetta, executive director of the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. “While the long‐term clarity trend shows we are on the right track, we need to be vigilant about external factors and the role climate change and other threats are playing.”

The full report can be found at tahoe.ucdavis.edu/secchi.

Source: UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center

A UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center scientist reads a Secchi disk in Lake Tahoe.
UC Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center / Katherine Kerlin

NID tries to predict change in water supply, demand for next 20 years

The Nevada Irrigation District has reviewed the projected supply and demand of drinking and irrigation water to over 25,000 homes, farms and businesses within its boundaries — a move needed to update its Urban Water Management Plan.

As a supplier servicing over 3,000 customers with over 3,000 acre feet of water annually, NID is required by the California Department of Water Resources to submit an Urban Water Management Plan once every five years. The plan offers an overview of the district’s water availability and reliability, estimates of past, present and projected water use, and strategies for meeting the community’s changing water needs.

Jim Crowley of Zanjero, the consultant company responsible for designing the district’s plan, discussed the scope of the issue during Wednesday’s NID meeting. Crowley said the plan has a 20-year horizon that demands that the district consider changes to the climate, community demographics and identity.

Crowley said treated retail customer trends over the last six years indicate a marked increase in connections to single-family homes and “other,” the customer classification use for standby fire services. The number of connections to industrial, commercial and government accounts, along with multifamily homes, has remained steady.

The district met the demand to provide their connections with 161,678 acre feet of water in 2020. By 2040, the plan predicted customer water needs increasing to 174,782 to 217,950 acre feet.

WATER ACCESS

NID supposedly has access to 450,000 acre feet of watershed runoff and storage per year, Crowley said, but less is actually available “due to temporal differences between rights, demand patterns and storage strategies.” Additionally, capacity is potentially increased by the 54,361 acre feet of water the district can purchase from PG&E each year.

The plan requires districts to consider options in case of a drought once every five years, and in the case of a five-year drought.

Crowley said water supply is significantly impacted by short, extreme events. Longer drought events afford opportunity to “adjust strategies,” “decrease demand” and “increase carryover opportunities.”

Division 5 Director Rich Johansen said he would like to see more accountability efforts in the area to discourage violations of the drought irrigation constraints, which limits watering to before 10 a.m. or after 9 p.m.

“We should investigate impact mitigation effectiveness,“ Johansen said.

Crowley said the supply and demand forecast is based off the change in demand over the last few years, as opposed to anticipated population growth.

“Projections did not use county’s projected population growth,” Crowley said. “They are based on the six to seven years previous. It has nothing to do with making adjustments in demand, it’s the number based on previous (consumption), including Placer County.”

The consultant company Zanjero chose this method because of the challenges posed to calculating population growth, not just in Nevada County, but unincorporated parts of Placer County as well.

“For our situation it made much more sense to project future demand numbers based on historical actuals than population,” Crowley said.

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at roneil@theunion.com