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Raw water flows to Big Oak Valley

You might not think people could still get excited over water running from a pipe, but that would mean you haven’t been to Big Oak Valley recently.

Some residents of the area between Penn Valley and Smartville are now getting raw water from the Nevada Irrigation District, and to them it is a very big deal.

Caroline Burnside is the secretary-treasurer for the new Melody Oaks Mutual Irrigation Company that started as a dream in January 2001.



“We started because people were desperate for water for fire safety,” Burnside said. “A lot of people (in the area) don’t have high-producing wells, and this was an opportunity to get water.”

Larry Ross has lived in the valley for years and cited the devastating 49er Fire of 1988 as a major reason why residents are paying $6,500 apiece to join the new water company.




“That fire came through like a train,” the retired former Bay Area resident said.

Along with fire safety, Ross is also looking forward to a healthy lawn in an area that is normally very brown. “I’ll have a little pasture, and I’ll put sprinklers in.”

Burnside said she will no longer have to pull dried-out tomato plants.

“It’s been a harsh summer, so to know you can save your trees is intoxicating,” Burnside said. “I’m going to have a green belt that never existed.”

“A large reason I got involved in all this was the 49er Fire,” said company Chairwoman Maxine Harmon. “It was incredible to know that when the (power) lines burned, there went the wells” – and any chance of fighting the blaze.

Burnside said the company went to numerous government agencies for financial support, to no avail. However, Citizens Bank of Nevada County came up with half of the $1.1 million needed to build the water system.

NID Board of Directors member George Leipzig was instrumental in getting the district to put a $218,000 pump into the China Union Canal to feed the system. Burnside said the system should be complete for next year’s irrigation season and delivery to 105 parcels in the five-square-mile area that holds 300 plots of land.

There will also be 18 special valves in the company’s pipeline, “so if there’s a fire anywhere, they can tap into the system,” Burnside said.

A one million gallon reservoir will provide further fire protection and a backup water supply.

Company directors are hoping that more neighbors will tap into the system, including those who are absent land owners.

“This whole valley will benefit,” Ross said. “There will be some green showing up here.”


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