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Bruce Herring: Plan for Water is pivotal

Bruce Herring | Other Voices

OK, here we go. The first public meeting of NID’s Plan for Water will take place at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 9. The good news is that General Manager Jennifer Hanson has publicly stated they will be using the American Water Works Association M50 manual as a guide. In reading through M50 I’m struck by the repeated emphasis of three themes: public involvement, integrated strategic planning (including land use), and community values.

From page 23: “Public involvement is more than just a public meeting — it is a strategic process to engage stakeholders early in the planning process so they may contribute to and influence decision making. An open, transparent decision making process can lead to an informed, consensus-based decision that reflects community values and minimizes public opposition.”

Chapter 10 offers a road map on how to proceed and concludes with a case study of the process used by San Diego in 2012. At the very outset the city formed a stakeholder committee that represented a wide range of interests, backgrounds, and values. The committee played a key role in the decision making throughout every aspect of the process, producing an outcome that was praised and accepted by the community.

So far, NID has only said there will be a series of public meetings. Why? Why don’t we follow San Diego’s example? Otherwise, why say you are using M50? A bonafide stakeholder committee ought to be addressed right from the get-go.

But for the moment, let’s step back and look at the bigger picture. What is NID aiming for here? After all, there didn’t seem to be much sense of urgency to take this on since the last Plan for Water in ’05.

As I mentioned in an earlier piece, this plan emerged in 2017. The board at the time was confident the plan would prove beyond any reasonable doubt the dire need for Centennial Dam. Now we know they were using inflated demand assumptions and outdated hydrology models.

New boards were seated in 2018 and again in 2020, resulting in the delay and re-purposing of the Plan for Water.

Let’s take a step further back. Did the recent conference at the State Water Board have anything to do with this? In 1927, the state filed water rights applications for hydropower and storage on the Bear River. The purpose was to hold the water for future beneficial uses to be determined by the state. In 2014 NID filed a petition to be assigned those rights for Centennial. A total of 14 entities protested that petition — most significantly the South Sutter Water District, but also the Placer County Water Agency, SYRCL and various other entities and individuals.

South Sutter believes their 1941 application for water rights to fill Camp Far West Reservoir should be granted priority over the 1927 right since they have actually been putting that water to “beneficial use” since the 1960s. They subsequently filed a request with the State Water Board to cancel NID’s application.

The Aug. 31 status conference was convened to determine whether to entertain the South Sutter request — and if so — schedule a full blown hearing on NID’s application. A hearing of that nature would drag on for several years and ultimately decide whether or not to grant the application.

The presiding officer of the Administrative Hearings Office heard from NID, South Sutter Water District and all other protestants. NID argued that the Plan for Water will discover whether there is sufficient water availability and may produce an appropriate project other than Centennial. They can then resolve all protest disputes and complete an environmental impact report.

South Sutter maintained NID’s application is a cloud on their title of water rights and prevent them from pursuing upgrades to their infrastructure, yet remains committed to negotiating a meaningful conclusion.

The Administrative Hearings Office issued a detailed request that requires NID to provide an environmental impact report timeline with regular check-ins and a protest resolution process. That report is due by Dec 30, with the next status conference set for Jan 18.

So, to our question, the Plan for Water is not only a vital planning piece for our community, but clearly hitched at the hip with Centennial on a regional and state level. It could be construed that NID is still hoping to prove a dam in the 21st century is necessary — or a convenient way to pursue a much more practical, affordable and environmentally sound series of alternatives.

After all, what are we aiming for here other than a healthy, intact watershed and a resilient and sustainable water delivery system?

Bruce Herring is a member of The Union Editorial Board. He is retired and lives on the outskirts of Grass Valley.


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