More clarity sought for Nevada County’s Raw Water Master Plan process | TheUnion.com

More clarity sought for Nevada County’s Raw Water Master Plan process

The Nevada Irrigation District’s board of directors put the brakes on the Raw Water Master Plan update at its last board meeting, terminating a contract with the consultant group hired to facilitate that two-year process.

On Tuesday, the committee charged with taking the next step decided against moving forward without a clearer idea of what, exactly, it wants to accomplish in terms of public involvement.

The district had hired The Kolbe Company last September for more than $800,000 to foster a more collaborative approach to determining the district’s water needs for the next 50 years as well as alternatives to meet those needs.

The Kolbe Company in December hosted two Plan for Water meetings, but the district now has pivoted. It has opted to reject the original public outreach process and instead use a less costly “M50” process developed by the American Water Works Association with plenty of stakeholder involvement, possibly in the form of town halls in each district.

The Water & Hydroelectric Operations Committee was charged with creating a stakeholder group that then would develop the community public engagement and input process for the Raw Water Master Plan update.

But Director Ricki Heck, who sits on the committee with Director Chris Bierwagen, said she wanted to hold off on making any decisions until the committee and staff can hear a presentation on how the M50 process has worked for other water districts in California.

Assistant General Manager Greg Jones provided the committee with an oversight of the Raw Water Master Plan since its inception in 1985. The plan has been formally updated by the board of directors two previous times, Jones said — in 1993, when portions of the technical basis were updated, and in 2005, when a formal Phase 1 update was completed and adopted. A Phase II update was approved in 2013, he added.

Changes in water usage and better information on climate change are part of what’s driving the desire for a new update, district staff said.

According to Jones, the water district in the past had each board member select two constituents from within their division to represent treated and raw water customers. Those representatives then would help identify a broader selection of stakeholders, he said. District staff also is recommending bringing the cities and counties to the table, said General Manager Rem Scherzinger.

Bierwagen, who along with Heck is newly elected to the water district board, noted the “exorbitant” cost of The Kolbe Group.

“We can achieve a robust (public) process without spending $800,000,” Heck agreed.

“Money is the driver here,” Scherzinger said, adding the community might want a big, fully facilitated stakeholders event, which would be expensive. He noted the district in its last update followed a more traditional track.

Many of those who spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting agreed with Heck’s proposal for a presentation on the M50 process.

“Without any knowledge of how this has worked (for other districts), how can you make decisions about what the stakeholder group should look like?” said Michael Hill-Weld.

Peter Van Zant cautioned the committee against narrowly defining stakeholders, saying, “They’re not necessarily customers.”

In the end, the committee directed district staff to bring in someone who has shepherded the M50 process in a California water district to make a presentation at its next meeting. The Water & Hydroelectric Operations Committee meets on the second Tuesday of the month at 9 a.m. The meetings are open to the public.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lizk@theunion.com.


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