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Melinda Booth and Traci Sheehan: NID trust in jeopardy — again

Melinda Booth and Traci Sheehan | Other Voices

On March 23, Nevada Irrigation District Board member Chris Bierwagen pulled the scab off a healing wound when he stated his support for and commitment to the construction of Centennial Dam on the Bear River during his end-of-the-meeting director report.

Some discussion ensued, repeating unsubstantiated claims that surplus water would be available should the 275-foot dam and 110,000-acre-foot reservoir be built.

In addition, Director Bierwagen disparaged the Bear River, calling it a “low-elevation drainage ditch.” The people who live along the Bear River, find healing and recreate in its cool summer waters would beg to differ — as would the plants and animals that rely on it for their existence.

The South Yuba River Citizens League, Foothills Water Network, and other groups like Friends of Bear River have been in vocal opposition to Centennial Dam for many years, citing diverse issues with the project.

While Director Bierwagen seemingly back-pedaled his comments several days later, the damage was done. Despite saying he was speaking as an individual, not an NID Board member, the truth is that when one speaks in an official meeting in one’s official capacity about one’s upcoming campaign, those words are official.

Dam opponents have recently stepped back, trusting NID’s new leadership to use current, research-based data, not personal opinion, to develop the Plan for Water.

The Plan for Water is intended to drill down into water supply and demand to identify what the future water needs for our community will realistically be and take into consideration climate change scenarios. Opponents agreed to trust the process to research and compile data about what is needed and the best way for our community to meet those needs.

Director Bierwagen’s comments broke that trust, which was then exacerbated by the lack of NID staff and other board members’ efforts to refute the comments.

A decision to build another dam is a high-stakes gamble. To announce support for it as an aside during a public meeting is irresponsible and misleading to the public.

Director Bierwagen’s comments undermine the Plan for Water process to which NID and the community have committed. His comments tainted the process and should be formally and fully withdrawn by a statement from him and NID.

NID is too important to our community to let that happen. We rely on their water delivery system for our treasured local agriculture, city drinking water, and rural quality of life. We need to see NID succeed and thrive.

We want to see them rise to the challenge and be a leader in 21st century water management. Uninformed, fear-based comments, such as the ones made by Director Bierwagen, do irreparable harm and they cannot go unmentioned. Our community deserves better.

Melinda Booth is SYRCL’s executive director, and Traci Sheehan is the coordinator for the Foothills Water Network.


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