Nevada Irrigation District agrees to reopen Scotts Flat spillway gate |

Nevada Irrigation District agrees to reopen Scotts Flat spillway gate

NID installed a fence at the Scotts Flat spillway last summer due to safety concerns, a move that sparked controversy. The gate remains open for now, with NID working to build a new trail in the fall.
Submitted photo by Jon Piland

A controversial security gate at the Scotts Flat dam spillway has been reopened — at least for now.

The board of directors for the Nevada Irrigation District has agreed to reopen the gate installed this summer that was blocking easy access to the other side of the reservoir and nearby trails.

The unanimous vote at a special board meeting Friday drew applause from a roomful of constituents who had been protesting the closure of the popular recreational trail.

The fence was installed due to “increased public safety concerns in and around the spillway,” NID said in an Aug. 16 press release. Illegal campsites, campfire remains, excessive trash, and vandalism to timber operator equipment, were cited as some of the reasons for closing the spillway access. But that decision drew outrage from many of the walkers and bicyclists who use the spillway to cross from the Highway 20 side of the lake to the Cascade Shores side.

In October, NID hosted a special workshop to brainstorm access options; suggestions included building a tunnel, hiring security guards or installing surveillance cameras.

At Friday’s meeting, NID Assistant General Manager Greg Jones noted that five of the suggestions had been identified as potential options.

Those included fencing along the top of the spillway running parallel with the eastern and western edges, including wingwalls, to be consistent with the current “no-climb” fencing and razor wire; that option was estimated to cost $48,000; cameras at various locations with real-time monitoring, with an estimated cost of $126,000; signage advising against loitering or jumping from the spillway with a cost of $1,000; and hiring security to patrol campgrounds and the spillway, which would run about $20,000 for the six- to eight-month season.

The last option discussed was closing the gate occasionally based on a certain level of threat based on a Homeland Security chart. It was noted by staff during the meeting that the chart provided to the board in their agenda packet actually was from 2011 and was no longer in use. Now, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security issues bulletins with more specific information.

“There is the issue of being able to protect the facility and protect NID from liability, and a community that is asking for access,” said board member Nancy Weber. “Are we responsive to the community? Are we willing to cooperate and do what we can and still keep NID safe?”

Board member Nick Wilcox acknowledged that signs do little to deter scofflaws, saying, “I’m reminded of the old Woody Guthrie song, ‘This land is your land. This land is my land.’”

Wilcox said that ultimately, the best solution will be to participate in building a trail along the bottom of the spillway.

“We will be eventually required to close it off and install video monitoring,” he said. “We have the right to control the facility and a duty to obey regulatory agencies. Sooner or later this facility will be closed.”

Weber proposed leaving the gate open and developing future options during regularly scheduled Water & Hydroelectric Operations Committee and Maintenance and Resources Management Committee meetings. She also proposed that staff have the authority to close the gate if Homeland Security issues an alert of terrorist threat, requiring staff to shut the dam facilities. In that event, NID would notify the public of the closure as soon as it happens; new signage will also be installed to alert the public about no jumping into the lake from the spillway or loitering.

During public comment, several customers urged the board to consider removing the concertina wire altogether.

The lake “is a place of beauty for us,” Lisa Kirshbaum said. “The barbed wire needs to go. … It’s not very pleasant. Whatever the final project is, I ask that you keep in mind the aesthetics a little bit.”

After the unanimous vote on Weber’s motion, NID communications specialist Susan Lauer said the gate would be reopened within the hour.

She later stressed in a news release that the measures being proposed are on an interim basis, adding that the spillway is expected to be rebuilt in the future.

Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at

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