Diana Suarez: What’s the real purpose of the Centennial Dam?
According to a Sacramento Bee on Sept. 18, 2015 article, in the spring of 2015, California state fisheries officials sent a letter to the Nevada Irrigation District alleging NID was in violation of three sections of the state’s Fish and Game Code over a small dam near Lincoln called Hemphill that blocks fall-run Chinook salmon as they migrate up Auburn Ravine Creek.
The letter also informed NID that their proposal to fix the situation was not approved. This dam is a Fish and Game Code violation that’s either a criminal violation or a civil violation, yet the years have passed and nothing has been done by NID or the state.
NID General Manager Rem Scherzinger stated that was not what the letter said at all and gave a completely different meaning. He stated the letter was simply disapproving a dam modification and did not state NID was in the violation of any law. He was quoted saying, “NID is committed to improving this facility to enhance and to allow fish passage beyond it.” He went on to blame regulations for the long delay while the salmon continue to decline.
Relatively simple fixes at small dams can open up many miles of habitat to wild-spawning salmon. Mr. Scherzinger claimed that over $500,000 had been spent on fish passage in Auburn Ravine and over $100,000 on Hemphill. He said that it is a “long-term process.”
According to correspondence from Chris Shutes, a negotiator for the Foothills Water Network; in another matter involving the California State Water Resources Control Board, a coalition of environmental groups — Save Auburn Ravine Salmon and Steelhead, and the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance — protested NID’s petitions to change water right permits and licenses. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife (and the National Marine Fisheries Services also protested during the FERC relicensing process. The main purpose in protesting was to secure adequate instream flows for local rivers and creeks that were not being addressed in relicensing the Drum-Spaulding and Yuba-Bear hydroelectric projects.
“Since 2010, several representatives of the Network and of DFW have been in negotiations with NID about these water-right petitions,” Shutes states. “The negotiations have achieved progress, but some issues remain unresolved. In addition, NID’s application for water rights on the Bear River (Parker Dam) in August, 2014 has complicated the process, and we are seeking procedural clarification from the State Water Board about how to go forward.”
Also according to Mr. Shutes, in December 2015, some debris was trapped behind a dam bumper and NID received an email which they responded to and removed the debris. In a reply via email Mr. Rem Scherzinger stated, “Some have asked what our plan is for this site and that is a great question. We are currently negotiating with the Foothill Water Network regarding a filing with the SWRCB and Hemphill is caught in that process. I would imagine that as soon as those talks are complete we would begin working on a long-term solution to our problem.”
Hemphill is caught in that process? Why? It is a 6-feet high, 100-feet wide dam blocking a salmon spawning run. The cost of removing that 1920 era dam is $177,000.
As mentioned in the Sacramento Bee article, Tina Bartlett, a district regional manager for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, encouraged the water district to apply for grants from the Proposition 1 water bond to offset the costs of building a fish passageway at the dam, which she described as the ideal, permanent solution. NID did not do this.
Instead NID recently received a $177,000 grant to “study” removal of the dam according to information from an NID board meeting. It seems that keeping Hemphill hostage and searching for a “long-term solution” works better for NID than solving the problem.
NID did apply for a grant from Proposition 1 water bond for nearly $12 million, but it wasn’t to build a fish passageway, it was to erect another expensive dam taking out riparian river habitat and blocking any future possibilities for salmon spawning, but they called it “habitat restoration.” Come again? Building another dam will restore habitat? Only in a world of convoluted thinking, misleading statements and covert agendas.
Instead of focusing on the issues at hand and working from the ground up to enhance salmon habitat, NID has taken a dam proposal that they claim is for local water storage and refashioned it to try and fit whatever works at the moment.
One thing is for sure, it is not about improving salmon habitat or recreation.
Dianna Suarez lives in Colfax.
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