Peter Van Zant: A new year at NID
The year 2020 was not a good one for a lot of us, and certainly not for the unfortunate souls and families impacted by the coronavirus. However, there is some good news on the local conservation front. One is that the Bear River between Rollins Reservoir and Lake Combie is still flowing unimpeded by the proposed Centennial Dam. Second, there are positive changes at the Nevada Irrigation District.
To recap, the proposed Centennial Dam is a 275-foot-high dam with a 110,000 acre-feet capacity, flooding the popular Bear River Canyon recreation corridor with a $1,000,000,000 ($1 billion) price tag.
Three of the original architects of the proposed dam left NID in 2020. General Manager Rem Scherzinger resigned, Director Nick Wilcox retired, and Director Scott Miller lost his seat in the 2020 election.
NID also put on hold the purchase of private properties in the Bear River canyon and limited the budget for the dam to $50,000 per year, down from the previous average of $2 million. NID spent under $200,000 on Centennial in 2020.
The new NID Board has impressive credentials for a rural water district. Keeping in mind that 90% of NID deliveries are raw water mostly supporting our local farms and ranches, it is appropriate that this new board has two long-time organic farmers: Chris Bierwagen and Rich Johansen, who won Mr. Wilcox’s seat.
The 2020 election added another new board member, Karen Hull, who brings years of financial and strategic planning experience on large projects at UC Davis. Ms. Hull is also a local farmer, growing flowers commercially.
Continuing on the board are Laura Peters, a registered civil engineer with 26 years of experience with the State Water Resources Control Board, and Ricki Heck, whose long career as an executive in real estate investment financial and project management has already served the district well.
While each of these individuals brings valuable experience to the board, I would be remiss if not mentioning the unprecedented history our community has made with the election of three women, an appropriate milestone to accompany NID’s 100-year anniversary. Thanks to the two women who previously served on the NID Board: Carol Friedrich for one term in the 1980s, and Nancy Weber for five terms from 1998 to 2018.
Looking ahead, 2021 is going to be a busy and pivotal year for NID. First, there is the critical task of hiring a new general manager, who must have the requisite management and engineering skills, along with experience working with community organizations such as our agriculture and conservation interest groups.
NID is completing state-required studies for urban water and agricultural water that will lead to the Plan for Water. The Plan for Water replaces the Raw Water Master Plan and projects future urban and raw water needs and supplies for the next 50 years.
The Plan for Water is also tasked with addressing the impacts of climate change based on complex climate change models as a water supply factor. Generally, these models predict precipitation shifting from the existing seasonal snow to more rain and also extending the precipitation season.
These models will need to be updated periodically as more data on climate change are understood. Three technical reports were published in late 2020 as a preliminary look at water demand and supply, indicating that the system has more than enough water to meet projected raw and treated water demands.
Finally, and most challenging, NID will continue evaluating the adequacy of water rates to meet expense needs. In addition to income from water rates is income from NID’s hydroelectric operations, used to offset user water and property tax rates.
The hydro business is also changing as solar, wind and energy storage impact electricity markets, and aging infrastructure becomes more expensive to maintain. Its future as a reliable income may change going forward. Revenue impacts of prolonged drought and water conservation also need to be considered.
The takeaway is that 2021 will be a busy and critical year for NID. The challenges include a new general manager, the development of critical planning studies, and the continuation of running a $100 million organization that serves thousands of customers, maintains numerous dams and reservoirs, operates hydroelectric systems, and hundreds of miles of delivery canals.
I wish the hard-working staff of NID a healthy and prosperous new 2021, and ask the public to get involved and support these critical NID initiatives.
Peter Van Zant, a former Nevada County supervisor, lives in Nevada City.
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