Water district drops Garden Bar Dam proposal
The South Sutter Water District voted Thursday to stop pursuing a new dam on the Bear River, effectively ending a statewide struggle between Sierra conservationists and Southern California water providers.
“This is a stunning victory for the Sierra Nevada and everyone who cares about our region’s resources,” said Peter Van Zant, Field Director of Sierra Watch, the Nevada City-based advocacy group that led the fight to stop the dam. “And it sends a clear message throughout the state: our rivers and canyons are worth more than a dam.”
At yesterday’s meeting, officials at the water district pointed to the lack of support in the region.
District counsel Kevin O’Brien stated that “a local Northern California project partner was a key element in going forward.” The water district did not find a Sierra water agency willing to participate.
O’Brien then recommended the Board of Directors put the project “on hold”; the board agreed unanimously.
The controversy centered on the Garden Bar region of the Bear River.
Distant water interests saw a potential location to impound water for delivery hundreds of miles south.
In 2011, South Sutter Water District partnered with Castaic Lake Water Agency, the Palmdale Water District, the San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, and the Cities of Napa and American Canyon to fund a ‘Preliminary Study’ of a proposed dam. Initial plans called for a 300-foot tall dam at Garden Bar Preserve, backing up Bear River water to be shipped through the Delta and end up as far away as Los Angeles County.
The land trusts reached out to Sierra Watch and asked for help in protecting their conserved lands from drowning in an old-fashioned Southern California water grab.
Sierra Watch coordinated with local allies, printed up Save the Bear River bumper stickers, and worked to drum up support for the canyon.
Local jurisdictions quickly joined in a chorus of overwhelming opposition. Both the Placer County and Nevada County Boards of Supervisors voted unanimously to voice their opposition, as did upstream water district Nevada Irrigation District and a wide range of community organizations.
A clear message from the state may have provided the last straw. In a letter to proponents of the dam, California Secretary for Natural Resources John Laird conveyed official opposition to the proposed dam, writing “(T)he Natural Resources Agency does not support the proposed Garden Bar Dam going forward…” citing the project’s threat to the “…state’s conserved lands and natural resources.”
Area conservationists argued for the area’s cultural and biological values.
Running between the better-known Yuba and American River watersheds, the Bear River tumbles from the granite peaks of Emigrant Gap, through the remote reaches of the California foothills, and into the Great Central Valley.
It serves as the Nevada/Placer County line, provides innumerable swimming holes to local residents, and lends its name to a nearby high school.
In recent years, the Garden Bar Region – in the canyons below Highway 49 – have been targeted by conservationists for permanent protection of working ranches and thriving wildlands.
Placer Land Trust and Bear Yuba Land Trust have invested millions of private and public dollars to protect the region’s habitat, cultural, watershed, hiking, fishing, and ranching resources.
Those values, however, were not so secure.
New parklands, including Garden Bar Preserve and Bruin Ranch, were at risk of being flooded by the proposed dam and the new reservoir.
“This is a great example of how all of us – Republicans and Democrats, ranchers and bird lovers, hikers and historians – can work together to defend what we love about the Sierra Nevada,” said Tom Mooers, Executive Director of Sierra Watch.
-The article was submitted by Tom Mooers, Executive Director of Sierra Watch.
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