William Morebeck: Road-mapping the process to plan for the next 50 years of local water
Water is life. And as a Nevada Irrigation District director and current president of the board, I am dedicated to working to ensure our community continues to have an ample, high-quality water supply for all well into the future.
Our community faces many challenges. Climate change is reducing the snowpack in the Sierra that naturally supplies our water. While our already finite resource will be further diminished, the demand for that water will undoubtedly increase by our agricultural, residential, environmental and business customers. We also need water to maintain and enhance our local watersheds, which are key to ecosystem water system function and also supports human well-being.
This is why I am proud of our board’s decision to begin the process to update the NID Raw Water Master Plan, which will identify our community’s future water needs and develop alternatives to meet those needs for the next 50 years. The update process will be thorough and take about 24 months to complete. Key to this is a public input process guided by a professional facilitator, who is being selected now.
The update process will include four working groups: the NID Board of Directors, a community-based public advisory committee, an NID technical analysis group and an NID public outreach group. Importantly, the committee will represent the widest range of community identities to provide a voice to as many segments of our diverse community as possible. All meetings held by the committee and its subgroups will be open to the public and recorded.
A charter will create the structure, rules, roles and responsibilities for the entire facilitated process. This will include the number of advisory members and the process for selection of participants who are willing to discuss, understand and explore an array of alternatives.
Overall, the goal of the Raw Water Master Plan update is to identify a community vision for the NID service area and the District’s customers, and present a pathway of action to achieve that vision. During the process multiple pathways will be created to identify ways to address, for example, water demand reduction, watershed improvement, storage enhancement and canal lining.
The advisory committee will develop each of the pathways to address the problem statement generated by its members. This will include helping to identify community issues to be considered in each one and measure the solutions available to meet those issues. Once drafted, the pathways will be presented to the NID Board of Directors, which will be solely responsible for the final pathway selection and adoption of the update.
Raw water is the natural and sustainable resource from our environment — rivers, reservoirs, groundwater — that has not been treated. About 90 percent of the deliveries by NID is raw water that flows, for example, into local farms, orchards and pastureland, as well as lakes and parks in western Nevada and Placer counties. The other 10 percent of the supply flows into NID treatment plants and then into our homes.
NID was formed in 1921 when Nevada County voters approved a ballot measure to form a district specifically to provide water for agriculture. The original 202,000-acre district expanded into Placer County with 66,500 acres in 1926. Water began to flow to farms in 1927. The cost of raw water then was 10 cents per day.
Now — like then — Sierra snowmelt provides NID’s water supply. The raw water is collected from a pristine, high mountain watershed, stored for a period of time in the District’s 10 reservoirs and then released into a 414-mile long canal system that brings the water to customers.
The raw water that NID provides is crucial to maintain and secure the future of agriculture — agricultural production is $65,206,000 in Placer County and $20,877,900 in Nevada County.
Our challenge during the plan update will be to analyze our supply availability and demand issues and, with public input, to evaluate alternatives and impacts to develop short-term and long-term solutions.
The timeline looks like this: By fall, NID will have hired and facilitator and formed the advisory committee. By the end of the year, the process and public outcome will have begun. The focus will be on analyses of water supply and demand within the District.
In 2019, the advisory committee will develop pathways and refine the plan based on board of directors’ questions and responses. By mid-2020, the board will select a pathway and approve the updated plan to ensure NID will continue to provide a high-quality local water supply into the next 50 years.
We are counting on the community to take an active role in determining its water future. We look forward to working with all of you in an effort to protect our community’s future environment, our agriculture and our water of life.
William Morebeck, Division 4, is the Nevada Irrigation District director and current president of the board.
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