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Another View: Centennial Reservoir golden opportunity for reliable water supply

By: Rem Scherzinger
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If we take a moment to reflect on the history of Placer County and all of our beloved Gold Country, it’s amazing to consider the colossal impact that sparkling, treasured mineral embedded in our hills and streams has had on the evolution of our region and all of California. Since then and through the years, we have watched another vital resource take a front seat in terms of its value, role and impact on our lives: water.

And despite the blessing of recent rainstorms during the first quarter of 2016, the fact that California is still waist-deep in a drought is a stark reminder of how very much we rely – and our lives depend - on H20. Indeed, the precipitation has helped our parched state and most certainly the communities served by the Nevada Irrigation District (NID), but we need to be ever-vigilant in protecting our water and ensuring we have a reliable, sustainable supply for the long haul.

During January storms, the NID measured 52,425 acre-feet (17 billion gallons) of water released down the Bear River below a full and spilling Rollins Reservoir. While this is encouraging news, the fact that we’re unable to capture and save this precious resource represents a major loss to our region.

Think about the sheer volume of water that is “lost” and we are not returning to our communities, businesses, farms and residents. The water we did not keep here this past January alone could fill another reservoir the size of Rollins (52,000 acre-feet) and represents nearly half of the volume needed to fill NID’s proposed water storage reservoir, Centennial.

Still, it’s inspiring and encouraging to see the measures taken by many to conserve and preserve our water supply. Water users throughout NID’s service area have done their part and cut water use by 31 percent since Governor Brown implemented the mandates. This is higher than state average. Our community is also thinking out of the box and experiencing new ways to meet our water supply responsibilities in Placer, Nevada and Yuba Counties.

Despite our successful conservation efforts, which are paying off, it simply isn’t enough. With future droughts clearly imminent and our ever-changing climate taking place before our eyes, we must evaluate ways to capture and store water during times when it is abundant so that when we need it most (during hot summer months), we have it.

The Centennial Reservoir project – identified since the 1920s as a premium water storage location and located on the Bear River below NID’s Rollins Reservoir and above Combie Reservoir – is now in the active planning phase and has been for more than a year. The District water rights on the Bear River date to its earliest days.

Some may ask why a third reservoir is needed when we already have two – Rollins and Combie. NID storage relies too much on runoff from snowpack, which has for too long created great uncertainty and unpredictability. The changing reality points to the need for more mid-elevation water storage so that we can bolster storage with rainstorms as well as snowpack.

The reservoir will hold 110,000 acre-feet of water and will ensure that Placer County and all communities served by the NID have access to an available and reliable source of water in the future.  The project has other benefits including public recreation, habitat improvements for fish and wildlife and a possible option for hydroelectric power generation. The project also includes the development of a comprehensive roadway corridor going in and out of the reservoir that will ensure the safest, most efficient transportation for visitors and the community.

With a warming climate, less snowpack but greater rainfall and other unpredictable factors, the Centennial Reservoir will give all of us – homeowners, farmers, small businesses, schools and others – greater certainty with a reliable water supply in the foothills. By doing so, we will be protecting our communities against future drought.

The District is in the preliminary stage of a comprehensive environmental review. We’re grateful for and proud of the community support we’ve received so far. We hope that area residents, businesses and other interested stakeholders will take the opportunity to learn about the project and its regional benefits. Visit www.CentennialReservoir.org to learn more about the project.

Rem Scherzinger is the general manager of the Nevada Irrigation District.