NID says water will likely last
Farmers and pasture-land owners will likely get their full supply of Nevada Irrigation District water this season.
But NID officials Wednesday said if things get hot, the district could begin a conservation and cutback program during peak demands in July and August to protect its two main canals from bursting.
“It could be a devastating effect to us, depending on what they would do,” said Mike McNair, farm manager at Loma Rica Ranch on the outskirts of Grass Valley. He figures he could absorb an 8 to 10 percent decrease in NID water “because we’ve designed for conservation in the first place.”
But McNair fears a 15 to 20 percent cutback and would probably curtail landscape and fruit tree irrigation if NID had to curtail flows. He is already not going to plant the full 15 acres the ranch uses for vegetables and berries.
If a curtailment went above 20 percent, “I’d have to look at my budget hard and make some tough decisions,” McNair said, even with his backup reservoir at hand.
The Cascade and DS canals feed the majority of NID’s Nevada County customers and they have been flowing at or above federal safety standards in recent years. That has strained the canal berms and left them vulnerable to collapse, according to NID officials.
Higher flows caused by warm weather could strain them even more and possibly cause a canal to blow out. If that happened, county farmers and residential customers in Nevada City and Grass Valley could be without water for two to three days, according to NID Water Operations Manager Don Wight.
“I anticipate we’ll make all the deliveries this season,” Wight told the NID board Wednesday. “In July and August, if we get to dangerous levels, we would want to take action,” with the board’s consent.
“If the weather is normal, we’ll probably have a good summer,” said NID General Manager Ron Nelson. “We want to plan for contingencies if we have an unusually warm summer.”
Those contingencies could include a voluntary conservation of drinking water by 25,000 people in Grass Valley and Nevada City. Wight also has planned for irrigation water rationing or reductions, with the possibility of credits down the line.
Perhaps the biggest impact would be on the county’s 30,000 acres of pasture, according to Agriculture Commissioner Paul Boch. With large curtailments in July and August, “they could dry up,” Boch said.
Many area residents use pastures for firebreaks, as feed for livestock or as hay to sell, Boch said. Others have pasture land for horses or aesthetics.
Carol Hollingsworth has five acres of pasture on McCourtney Road that she irrigates for her goats.
“To me it’s important to keep my pastures green for fire protection, if nothing else,” Hollingsworth said. “I would hate to see them dry up, but we may have to live with it.”
Wight said any water cutbacks or conservation plans would be brought before the NID board for approval before implementation.
“This is a dynamic on our horizon that we need to be aware of,” said board member John Drew, who also grows organic vegetables on his farm in Chicago Park.
To contact senior staff writer Dave Moller, e-mail davem @theunion.com or call 477-4237.
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