Watching the reservoirs: After 3rd driest year in district history, NID operations manager encourages more ‘rain dancing’ |

Watching the reservoirs: After 3rd driest year in district history, NID operations manager encourages more ‘rain dancing’

Rainfall at Bowman Lake since Oct. 15 represents 211% of the average rainfall calculated over a 20-year span, the Nevada Irrigation District said Wednesday.

Nearly 20 inches of rain have fallen so far this rain year, Operations Manager Chip Close said during his Wednesday presentation, but more precipitation is necessary if the county — and the state — is able to recover from last year’s drought.

“I’m encouraging more rain dancing,” Close said in response to District 5 Director Rich Johansen’s comment about the mercurial nature of La Niña, a weather phenomenon due to hit the region this winter.

Although NID is in a more privileged position than other water districts downstream, Close said, its reservoirs were affected by the statewide response to this past summer’s drought.

The State Water Resources Control Board issued an order in August limiting the district’s Bear and Yuba river diversions to reservoirs, away from the natural flow.

“The state’s release of curtailment allowed us to capture flow,” Close said.

Now, NID has 142,674 acre feet of water storage, or 85% of its most recent eight-year average. Close said the reservoirs themselves are at 53% capacity.

“I’ve had customers call in and say, ‘This is crazy, is the drought over?’ and I say, ‘Not by a long shot.’ We’re still well below average,” Close said.

Johansen said that, originally, NID thought it might maintain 230,000 acre-feet of water in its reservoirs, then reduced its goal to 200,000 acre-feet.

“Right now we’d be at Stage 5,” Johansen said, referring to the tiers outlined in NID’s drought plan. “What do we need to get to a Stage 4 or 3 or get out of this altogether?”

“When we project the reservoirs will hit 233,000 acre-feet, that means it will be a normal water delivery-type year for us,“ Close said.


Close said even if local rain and respected regulations assist the district on its road to reservoir recovery, the state “will take a while to rebound.” According to the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, over 60% of California’s developed water supply originates in the Sierra Nevada.

“It would be wise to keep the drought resolution act in place,” Close said.

Close said people are already using less water this year, because of the abundance of rain.

“Since October 21, we’ve used 28% less water than we did in 2020,” Close said, noting that the district was continually supplying water to its users regardless of whether they received payment due to the COVID-19 crisis.

NID’s board expressed interest in getting a head start on drought messaging, given the gravitas of the situation long term, but Close resisted the idea, saying the intention might not be impactful this time of year.

“I just want to caution if we take that approach,” Close said. “The messaging will be severe, and I don’t want to falsely alarm folks too early.”

Johansen said he wants the district’s stakeholders, or users, to know what to prepare for sooner rather than later.

NID’s administration convened with multiple interest groups over the course of last week, including the Nevada County Economic Resource Council, the Nevada County Contractors’ Association, and the Placer County League of Women Voters, said NID CEO Jennifer Hanson.

District 1 Director Ricki Heck asked to be notified of future meetings, as she wanted to stay abreast of new information and offer consistent messaging. Hanson replied that she was cautious to do so because of the California Brown Act, which notes that it is illegal for directors to convene and discuss agency issues outside of public forums.

“Certain groups do ask to see the the staff specifically outside the political realm,” Hanson said. “My biggest concern is definitely Brown Act issues. I had an old city attorney who used to say, ‘It’s not technically a violation of the Brown Act for all five of you to jump in the car and drive to Disneyland together.’”

Heck said that her request was “a comment, not a criticism.”

Rebecca O’Neil is a staff writer with The Union. She can be reached at

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