Thanks, Ernie, for making this a better area |

Thanks, Ernie, for making this a better area

ALL | GrassValleyArchive

Ernie Bierwagen, who is leaving the Nevada Irrigation District board of directors after nearly a quarter century of service, is not so much a politician as someone who wanted to make his community a better place to live.

The 87-year-old Bierwagen has invested his life here, and few people know the community, or NID, as well as Bierwagen does.

Bierwagen’s family first came to Chicago Park about a century ago, and managed to scratch out a living in the foothill climate growing fruit. In 1921, farmers like Bierwagen’s father formed NID, raising $8 million in bonds backed by property taxes and overcoming opposition from ranchers who drove cattle between the valley and mountains.

The irrigation district helped agriculture flourish, including the Bierwagens’ orchard, but the district itself didn’t always fare so well. Bierwagen remembers when finances were so bad that NID workers rushed to the bank to make sure their paychecks wouldn’t bounce. When he joined the board, the district was $600,000 in debt.

The district not only gained stronger financial footing, but was later able to build up large reserves for the district’s future needs. Some people balked. Why did the district need so much money? But some of them weren’t around when the district, under a mountain of debt, didn’t have enough money to buy new equipment or pay workers for their accrued sick time and vacation time.

Bierwagen gave credit for the turnaround to NID general managers Frederick Bandy and Jim Chatigny. Chatigny is also set to retire soon from NID.

But Bierwagen was there as well, doing his part to build NID into a strong agency that could serve the needs of its customers.

That may have been foremost in Bierwagen’s mind during those times when he opposed environmentalists over the resource needs of the community. He strived to plan for the district’s future water needs while others, often newcomers, wanted to save the river, save the canals and save the trails.

For instance, many hailed the state designation of the South Yuba River as Wild and Scenic, finding the prospect of new dams horrifying. However, Bierwagen argued against tying up what he saw as an important resource and removing it from local control.

The newcomers often find themselves at odds with people like Bierwagen. But Bierwagen and others like him helped bring water to the area, which made it possible for those other folks to live here in the first place.

We thank Bierwagen for his service to our community and wish him the very best.

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