Nevada County joins Placer in opposing Garden Bar dam on Bear River

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Placer County’s opposition to a possible new dam on the Bear River has been joined by the Nevada County Board of Supervisors and Nevada Irrigation District board. Both panels voted this past week to do what Placer supervisors did a month ago. They voted unanimously to reject what is still a preliminary investigation into the possibility of what is being called the Garden Bar Dam by the South Sutter Water District. The dam concept has been roundly criticized by environmental and conservation groups, who also convinced the Placer County Fish and Game Commission to oppose it earlier this fall. Tom Mooers, of Nevada County’s Sierra Watch praised the votes Tuesday by the Board of Supervisors and Wednesday by the irrigation district board. Sierra Watch has been critical of the move by South Sutter because it has had early backing from Southern California water districts. They are also fighting a dam because Garden Bar reservoir would inundate land in both counties that already has been set aside for preservation as open space and grazing land. “They took a stand not only for the Bear River but, also for the oak woodlands, steep canyons and working ranches a new dam would flood and destroy,” Mooers said. Wednesday’s decision by the Nevada Irrigation District board included direction to continue to have water-supply discussions with South Sutter, which now receives irrigation district water and is seeking long-term reliable supplies. Based in Trowbridge, Sutter County, South Sutter is a small district that supplies irrigation water in a 36,000-acre area in Sutter and Placer counties. Rice farming accounts for about 82 percent of its water deliveries. One of its holdings is the 104,000-acre-foot Camp Far West Reservoir in Placer County. Nevada Irrigation District officials are asking South Sutter to work on a solution for future water needs that would not include a new reservoir between Lake Combie and Camp Far West, north of Auburn. The cost of a new reservoir is between $415 million to $675 million. The dam itself would rise 300 feet, with a potential partnership between South Sutter and two water suppliers in the Napa County and three from Southern California. Joe Byrne, vice president of the Bear Yuba Land Trust said that the decisions this past week were good ones because of the importance of the Bear River Canyon, an area where the land trust has already invested public and private money to permanently protect conservation lands. The Nevada County Board of Supervisors will be sending a letter to South Sutter opposing the dam. Mooers said that will add to a growing opposition of overwhelming opposition, sending a clear signal to the distant water districts to cease any planning or funding. “Don’t waste another penny of ratepayer money on this proposal,” Mooers said. “It’s not going to happen.”