Bruce Herring: The future priorities of NID | TheUnion.com

Bruce Herring: The future priorities of NID

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Bruce Herring

We are three years and $11 million into the proposed Centennial Project. NID argues we need it to stretch out the supply of water during times of extended drought and the continuing decrease in snow accumulation levels.

Those opposed bring up environmental and Native American cultural concerns, skepticism about the true purpose, a huge price tag, and no identified mechanism to pay for it.

Studies from agency and academic institutions go further and suggest a slew of less intrusive alternatives for more efficient management of the watershed and existing infrastructure.

Regardless of where one stands on the issue, these are serious and legitimate questions that need to be addressed.

The questions raised at the beginning of this piece are monumental, and will affect everyone in the Yuba/Bear rivers watershed for generations to come.

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But who decides?

The ultimate decision rests with the five member board of directors elected from five distinct divisions. Before it comes to that there are several hurdles to overcome.

The project must clear both the State (CEQA) and Federal (NEPA) environmental review process. Draft environmental studies are currently underway and will become public this year. NEPA is expected quite soon. Following public release there will be a period of 30 to 60 days for public comment. Then final statements will be written, yet both could be subject to legal challenges.

NID's Centennial and a dozen other water storage proposals have applied for grant funding through Proposition 1. In December, NID presented its case for $12 million at a public hearing before the CWC (California Water Commission). The CWC will determine which projects to fund, with a preliminary decision expected mid year.

The fourth hurdle is NID's petition for assignment of water rights from the Bear River. This must be approved by the State Water Resources Control Board. Hearings would not begin until completion of environmental reviews, probably sometime in 2019. This has been a contentious process already with formal protests coming from 14 agencies and organizations. These include Placer County, Department of Fish and Wildlife, South Sutter Water District, and the Nevada City Rancheria Tribal Council. Negotiations with South Sutter Water District over their legal challenge have completely broken down.

Mixed in with all this, three of the five NID board positions are up for election this fall. Thus, those who live in Divisions 1, 2, and 4 have an immense say in determining the future vision and priorities of NID.

But who will not have a say? Anyone living within the city limits of Grass Valley and Nevada City are excluded from voting in NID board elections.

Why? Because both cities purchase NID water at wholesale prices, and in turn sell that water to residential and commercial entities. Thus NID can say "It's not our water." These citizens can lend support or financial assistance to any candidate in any division, but cannot vote.

Who else is excluded? Our neighbors across the river in Colfax, Weimar, and Meadow Vista. But would they be affected if Centennial is built? Six miles of river, dozens of miles of trails, and the extremely popular Bear River Campground would be underwater. This is their "go to" place for river recreation of all sorts. Imagine if all of a sudden Edwards Crossing would be inundated and "poof," just gone.

The questions raised at the beginning of this piece are monumental, and will affect everyone in the Yuba/Bear rivers watershed for generations to come. And yet in excess of 20,000 people will have no vote in the matter. This is an egregious flaw in the democratic process.

What if by trotting out this dam proposal NID has unwittingly energized the voting and non-voting citizens of the area into a thorough and appreciative inquiry into what could be? Considering that NID officials have all but conceded there is no supply problem, and Placer County is thinking of a resolution in support of river recreation, here's a couple thoughts:

Expand river recreation with greater access from both sides of the Bear to include additional trails and a river run from Ben Taylor Crossing to below the Dog Bar Bridge.

With the U.S. Forest Service, University of California experts, and other partners, aggressively reduce the fuel load in the upper watershed. This would lower the danger of catastrophic fire and reduce sedimentation into existing reservoirs.

The result would be cleaner water and additional storage at a fraction of the cost of actually fighting fires or dredging. And it would put people to work.

Now about that $11 million …

Bruce Herring is an NID board candidate for Division 2. He lives in Grass Valley.

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