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Settling the $100 million question

Most folks in the arid West have heard Mark Twain’s humorous observation that “whiskey’s for drinkin’, water’s for fightin’.” The saying has always made me laugh, but it’s a shock to see some people regard it as gospel truth.

As if trying to prove Twain literally correct, a small group of political activists has been attacking SYRCL and other nonprofits, suggesting we are getting rich on grants earmarked for the Yuba River. Their accusations have gotten more ludicrous with time, relying increasingly on distortions and outright fabrications.

For example, at first this small (but vocal) group claimed that SYRCL had received more than $1 million in grants. But lately they have accused SYRCL of receiving more than $110 million! “Wait a few more weeks,” a friend joked, “They’ll be saying SYRCL has enough dough to balance the state’s budget!”



It’s time to set the record straight. SYRCL has never received or controlled $110 million. What SYRCL has done is cooperate with responsible public agencies and private organizations to attract money to tackle regional problems affecting the Yuba River.

For instance:




SYRCL helped secure $90 million for flood control on the Yuba and Feather rivers to protect our downstream neighbors and eliminate the need for new dams. The $90 million was part of a statewide water bond passed by voters in March 2000, and it is controlled by the Department of Water Resources and various wildlife and water agencies. Not one penny has gone to SYRCL or was ever controlled by SYRCL. I’m proud, however, that our success was praised as “a noteworthy accomplishment” in an editorial in The Union (Feb. 7, 2000).

More recently, SYRCL helped raise $3.5 million to purchase 731 acres in the South Yuba canyon that Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI) had scheduled for logging. That land is now part of the South Yuba State Park. The money came from voter-approved Proposition 40 and was paid to SPI in exchange for the land. Again, no money went to SYRCL. The Union, in an editorial, hailed the deal as “a credit to groups that, in the past, have been at each others’ throats … . May this just be the start of more collaborations for preserving our mountain home” (Oct. 3, 2003).” I couldn’t agree more.

SYRCL also helped secure more than $10 million to increase the populations of wild Chinook salmon and steelhead in the Yuba River. These fish are a boon to local recreation businesses and a reliable indicator of the health of the Yuba watershed. The money has hired the nation’s premier engineering and scientific experts to study the Yuba’s fisheries. And once again, not one penny of this money ever went to SYRCL.

I could go on with many more examples, but my point is this: SYRCL works with numerous partners like State Parks, NID, flood control agencies and others to bring financial resources to our small community. Together, SYRCL and its partners are tackling regional problems like flood control, water quality, fish restoration and recreation. SYRCL has even teamed up with local schools and fire districts to find money for education programs and brush clearing.

Were it not for SYRCL and its partners, this money – like most public money Ð likely would have gone to Los Angeles, San Francisco, or some other urban area with more political clout than our rural county. And for this, we are being attacked.

It’s time for anti-SYRCL activists to take a long, deep breath and calm down. The “fightin'” that characterizes water politics throughout the West has mostly been replaced by cooperation on the Yuba River. Unfortunately, these activists threaten to isolate Nevada County government from the many regional cooperative efforts to protect and better manage the Yuba River.

SYRCL has a well-earned reputation for partnering with folks who sometimes disagree with us. Indeed, last month Gov. Schwarzenegger honored SYRCL with the 2003 Governors Award for Environmental and Economic Leadership in part for our ability to work with diverse interest groups.

Since our founding in 1983, SYRCL has found that cooperation is often preferable to fightin’. We’re proud of our successes in raising money to protect water quality, restore the Yuba’s wild fisheries, improve flood protection, and end the threat of new dams on the Yuba forever.

With persistence, hard work and an expanding list of partners, we will raise even more. SYRCL hopes that Nevada County’s government is an ally, rather than an opponent, in these worthy efforts.

Janet Cohen is the executive director of the South Yuba River Citizens League, based in Nevada City.


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