Michael Hill-Weld: Water management, not a dam
February 11, 2018
Large public works projects are inevitably accompanied by large losses. The Nevada Irrigation District proposed Centennial Dam, a 110,000 acre-feet of water reservoir behind a 275-foot dam, is no exception.
If built, the project would inundate seven miles of the last public accessible and free flowing Bear River between Rollins and Combie reservoirs. And gone forever would be an unparalleled suite of recreational activities as well as the beautiful and natural splendor of a Sierra river canyon.
NID has applied to the California Water Commission for California Proposition 1 funds to support reservoir recreation infrastructure. The application required NID to list the Bear River recreational activities that would forever be lost under the reservoir. Surprisingly their list is comprehensive and describes a recreational wish list that no reservoir could match.
In NID's own words here are some of the recreational facilities and activities that would be lost to residents and visitors:
Centennial would provide "predominantly reservoir-based recreation opportunity rather than river-based" opportunity.
Centennial "would substantially reduce the river-based recreation opportunities and uses such as river angling, gold panning, river swimming, white water boating or floating/tubing in the project area."
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Centennial would "eliminate one existing developed recreation facility (Bear River Park and Campground) due to inundation of the Bear River."
Centennial would inundate an "undeveloped recreation site … at the Dog Bar Road bridge crossing. This site provides a popular but limited access to the Bear River … via several informal trails."
Centennial "would inundate the Bear River where two existing white water boating runs currently exist."
Centennial "would inundate the entire lower run from Ben Taylor Road downstream to Dog Bar Road bridge."
With Centennial, "areas for river angling and swimming would be substantially reduced in the inundation area but, general angling and swimming would be provided or available in a reservoir setting with the project reservoir."
With Centennial "river-based, but not river-dependent recreational uses would also be substantially reduced in a riverine setting with the inundation of the project. These uses include camping, picnicking, trail use, and wildlife viewing/nature observation."
With Centennial "uses would be substantially farther from the shoreline than under existing riverine conditions given the draw down anticipated for the project reservoir."
With Centennial "The recreational trail will replace the trail system within Bear River Park and Campground and also provide a non-motorized connection between most of the project recreation facilities as well as a connection across the reservoir between Placer and Nevada counties."
NID admits that constructing the Centennial Dam will destroy many recreational opportunities offered by the free flowing Bear River. And once they are gone, we won't be able to recover them or to replace them.
But construction of the dam is far from inevitable. The project is currently the subject of both state and federal studies to determine the need for the project, the financial feasibility of the project, the environmental impacts of the project and the alternatives to construction of the dam and flooding this section of the Bear River. The studies are now slated to be available in late 2018.
In the meantime, residents of the district and people concerned about the Bear River can get more information on the impacts of the Centennial Dam from the websites of the South Yuba River Citizens League http://yubariver.org/about-centennial-dam/ and Save the Bear River http://www.savebearriver.com/ and on Facebook by following the no Centennial reservoir https://www.facebook.com/CentennialReservoir/
They can, also, become informed about the candidates for the three seats on the NID board of directors on the ballot in June. They can support those candidates who support 21st century watershed management that does not rely on construction of a $500 million dam and preserves existing recreational activities.
Michael P. Hill-Weld lives in Nevada City.