Moses, are you out there?
Springs of living water flow down from the snowy mountaintops of the Sierras forming waterfalls and rivers of life, touching the earth and following a crystal path of least resistance. Capturing this water and saving it for another day is the job of the Nevada Irrigation District (NID) located in Grass Valley and they’ve been doing this faithfully since 1921.
Back then, the oldest water rights in the state were secured and a blueprint was drawn up as the winter snows finally came, whereby eventually a system of 453 miles of flumes and canals, seven hydroelectric dams and various lakes began bringing precious surface water to 98,000 people as of 2014. What an achievement!
In the years gone by, with a minimum amount of state regulation, NID has always been able to navigate effectively through rain, sleet, snow and drought for nearly 100 years, but with back-to-back droughts going on for the last three years, the state has declared a 270-day emergency and is attempting to regulate NID. Now there is a crack in the dam.
For the moment, NID has a 20 percent voluntary water reduction in place and is also buying additional water from PG&E. While choosing how to divert the water, which has been NID’s sole job in the past, the state is now playing their own endangered species wild card. The overly regulated “fish” are the state’s number one concern. Shall we also add the yellow-legged frog and the Yosemite toad while humans suffer and their livelihoods are being destroyed? Is there any wisdom left in Sacramento when it comes to priorities?
In the past, the role that NID had always played in a drought was that water was first diverted to the people for their health and safety. Agriculture was next on the list. But with an emergency declaration, the state is now looking at substantial diversions to save fish and are sending in the state water police to monitor NID’s diversion network. And if NID’s blueprint isn’t up to par, then there will be thousands of dollars in fines. Welcome to the new water rights hierarchy. Yet, these persons from the state who monitor the water do not have a clue to what it takes to make accurate decisions about diverting water in an elaborate and complex Nevada County network, which also serves Placer and Yuba counties. Adding to the hierarchy, the federal government is also looking into regulating the waterways. The czars of the agencies are hard at work bypassing a government for and by the people.
Thus, the water wars are beginning, and as we have seen in the past, when centralized government moves in, we the people who are dependent upon NID, in a worst-case scenario, will be on the short end of the stick receiving a whopping drought allotment of 50 gallons of water per day per household. Of course, let’s not forget that hundreds of billions of gallons of water that could have been stored in the reservoirs will be flowing past the Delta and then out to the Pacific Ocean to save the poor little smelt fish year after year.
While water shortages could be on the horizon for next year and perhaps even longer, NID’s short-term fix is to raise the Rollins Reservoir holding capacity by 25,000 acre feet. (Editor’s note: NID has recently announced plans for construction of a new reservoir in southern Nevada County. See page A1).
Rem Scherzinger, the general manager of NID stated that if push came to shove, NID would have to float a bond issue to increase a lot more water capacity. Yet, with the state emergency measures already in place shouldn’t that idea have already been placed in motion on a fast track years ago?
Since NID is fully dependent upon the winter snowpack and when “climate change” is producing drier weather, new dams should be the priority for the most populated state in the nation. Scherzinger stated that the greatest need for NID’s capacity at the present time is to develop a greater network which would capture more snow water at the higher elevations in the Sierra, which would be above Scotts Flat Lake.
For now, since the state is beginning to meddle in NID’s water rights and affairs, it may be time to rethink Nevada County’s relationship with the not-so-friendly Golden State. With a clear lack of planning by the State Water Board, the State of Jefferson is looking better and better every day. Perhaps there is someone out there who can part the waters for us and keep our water here? Moses, are you out there?
Chuck Frank lives in Penn Valley.
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