Nevada Irrigation District studying alternatives to Garden Bar dam

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Nevada Irrigation District is looking at alternatives to a possible Bear River dam being seriously considered by the South Sutter Water District. With continuing concerns being voiced at an irrigation district meeting Wednesday in Grass Valley that the South Sutter effort is masking a “water grab” by Southern California water purveyors, the Nevada County-based water board decided to have its water and hydro committee examine the issue. Board President Nancy Weber tasked the committee with coming back to the Dec. 14 board meeting with a report on any benefits a dam would have to the Nevada Irrigation District. Director John Drew asked for more information from the committee on what the district can do to help provide South Sutter’s rice-growing agricultural land with a steady supply of water. Representatives of the South Sutter Water District and consultant RMC Water and Environment outlined the district’s uncertainties over future water supplies and how it had partnered with three Southern California water districts on a $1 million preliminary study for a dam between Lake Combie and Camp Far West Reservoir. Reservoir storage would be from 245,000 and 400,000 acre-feet. The irrigation district currently provides 3 percent of the Sutter district’s water supplies in transfers and they’re up for renewal in 2013. Camp Far West Reservoir provides another 32 percent and groundwater the rest of the district’s supply. Lyndel Melton, of RMC, said South Sutter needs to ensure it has an adequate water supply to guard against future losses. “They’re looking at partners with the objective of increasing supply reliability because of everything from climate change to environmental stewardship,” Melton said. But the area that could be inundated if a dam was built sits in a section of Bear River that has been long identified by environmental and land preservation groups as a wildlife corridor. The Nevada County Land Trust and Placer Land Trust both have conservation easements on hundreds of acres that are threatened with inundation. Otis Wollan, a Colfax resident and former Placer County Water Agency director, told the board that the strip of blue oak woodland along the Bear River the reservoir would flood is a very critical piece of wildland. He added that the Placer County Fish & Game Commission voted 7-0 two weeks against a dam. Wollan called on the irrigation district board to make a clear decision on how it feels about a dam, which would be located between the Combie and Camp Far West reservoirs. He warned that inserting Southern California districts into the area’s water ownership equation would result in the addition of some litigious players thirsty for water and willing to play hardball to get it. Melton said South Sutter has no partners yet on a more expensive follow-up environmental study for the dam and the Southern California water districts are “listening” to the dialogue now taking place. Wollan said the board should send a message. “If you’re all very clear, you would help them make a reasonable decision on their ability to participate,” Wollan said. Weber provided some assurances to the environmental-group representatives at the meeting that their voices would be heard. “It’s not just about business and the monetary side of things,” Weber said. “Everyone is aware of the environmental concerns. We want to do the right thing.”