Bruce Herring: Water management — Who deserves a voice at the table?
Let’s flesh out what integrated regional water management means a bit more, fine tune what a stakeholder is, and offer an example.
Integrated regional water management is a subset of integrated water management, which has been around for decades, often on a national basis. Australia, New Zealand, France, the Netherlands, South Africa, and Canada have been successful with it to varying degrees. Integrated regional water management is best achieved on a basin or watershed scale.
The United States has no national policy, leaving it to the states. This lends itself to institutional shortcomings and overlapping jurisdictions. Nevada Irrigation District is a special district authorized by the state. It follows that since we are specifically addressing the NID service area, the term “regional” is appropriate. NID is uniquely positioned to be the primary basin steward as district boundaries run from the headwaters of the Middle Yuba all the way to the valley.
A key issue in the Plan for Water is who should be involved in the process. You are a stakeholder if you gain or lose value from a decision or project.
All too often, NID has prepared plans in a vacuum and released a proposal after all technical work is completed. We’ve seen this recently with the proposed Centennial Dam. This closed-door approach can no longer suffice.
Although involving stakeholders may slow down the technical work, any final decision and project approval are invariably reached sooner and more amicably. All definitions of integrated water management state that the process must be democratic and give stakeholders a meaningful seat at the table.
So who are the stakeholders?
First, the most obvious. All manner of agricultural and urban customers. The cities of Grass Valley, Nevada City, Penn Valley, and Lincoln. Nevada County and Placer County. Government agencies including the U.S. Forest Service, State Parks, and California Fish and Wildlife. All neighboring utilities and water districts, including Placer County Water Agency, South Sutter Water District, Yuba Water Agency, and PG&E.
Also included are area conservationists such as SYRCL, the Wolf Creek Community Alliance, the Foothills Water Network, and the Bear Yuba Land Trust. Many folks associated with these groups, along with researchers at Chico State and UC Davis and various private firms, have gained a great deal of expertise in hydrology, groundwater, and climate change.
What about the Nisenan and other regional tribes? What about property owners beyond the district boundaries who may derive gain or suffer loss (value) from NID projects?
Consider this. The River Fire has put much of PG&E’s Bear River Canal at risk. Emerging from Rollins Reservoir, the canal is the primary conduit for the Placer County Water Agency and NID water deliveries to Auburn, North Auburn and the Lincoln area. It snakes its way along the river canyon on a contour with the steep slope.
It survived the fire intact, but large areas above it and downslope are denuded of vegetation and covered in ash. If the fall rains begin steady and light, the moisture will slowly sink into the soil and help solidify the bank. A hard driving storm will send that loosened ash and pollutant-covered soil down the slope in droves. Much of the sludge would get into the canal and some could actually over top it.
The best-case scenario would be the need to dredge the conveyance. Worst case would be major damage and possibly a breach, sending thousands of gallons of water in a cascade down to the river, causing even further erosion.
Recall that Stage 1 of the Plan for Water is a full system review of all NID facilities. The fire has put the viability of the Bear River Canal front and center into this review. Placer County Water Agency and NID have been in discussion for some time now about buying the canal from PG&E. Should they? Over a century old, the canal has already breached several times in the past few decades.
Shouldn’t the Plan for Water include a risk assessment of aged infrastructure? Whether they buy the canal or not, the stakeholders in any review of the canal are all the downstream clients of both water agencies, PG&E, Placer County, and Placer County landowners in the immediate vicinity of the canal.
These same property owners live either in or just above the inundation zone of the Centennial proposal and have been in limbo over whether to sell or re-roof or repair a deck for seven years. By definition from the 2013 California Water Plan — these folks surely are stakeholders in the Plan for Water and deserve a voice at the table.
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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