Rich Johansen, NID President, Board of Directors
Rich Johansen, NID President, Board of Directors Credit: JOY PORTER

February 8, 2024 - While the Nevada Irrigation District (NID) is working hard to ensure the reliability of our water supply, the district is facing potential state regulations that would have dire negative impacts for agriculture, our community, fire protection, wildlife and aquatic habitat. State recommended regulations would affect NID operations and service, decreasing water supply and raising the cost of water to all customers if implemented.

The California State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) is working to update an action plan to improve water quality and save imperiled fish populations, including salmon and delta smelt, in the San Francisco Bay/Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Bay-Delta).

A recently released draft staff report includes an alternative that recommends increasing unimpaired flow to 55 percent from Northern California rivers and Sacramento/Feather River tributaries into the Bay-Delta. This includes the Yuba and Bear rivers, key source watersheds of NID’s water system. Unimpaired flows are defined as instream flows that would occur in rivers and tributaries if all runoff from the watershed remains in a river without storage or diversion facilities (i.e. before dams).

If adopted, this alternative would effectively negate NID’s long-standing water rights to the Yuba and Bear River systems. A cascading effect would ensure a significant decrease in the amount of water NID has available for its customers while negatively impacting all aspects of the district’s operational and financial viability.

As a fourth-generation farmer and a long-time resident of Nevada County, my connection to this community dates back to my great-grandfather, who arrived here in 1854. With extensive background in agriculture as a certified organic farmer, I can tell you I am very concerned.

It is true that the fish populations in the Bay-Delta are in trouble, declining to historic lows. But efforts to address this trend by only tapping our local resource and flushing more water to the ocean is not the answer.

There is, however, an alternative to the Bay-Delta fisheries dilemma. The Healthy Rivers and Landscapes Program (Agreements), ensures sustainable and economically feasible water supplies year-round in support of all beneficial uses: farms, fields, people, wildlife and aquatic habitat. The Agreements are comprehensive, thoughtful and balanced, ensuring a sustainable approach to the Bay-Delta issues that combine additional flows, habitat improvements, and a science-based governance program.

NID has joined other water purveyors and state agencies across California in calling on the State Water Board to embrace this coordinated Agreements alternative to long-term water and fisheries management for the Bay-Delta. Protecting all beneficial uses of water is paramount.

If the unimpaired flow alternative becomes reality, there would be drastic changes at NID and for the residents of Nevada and Placer counties.

Take Scotts Flat Reservoir as an example. It is the primary water supply reservoir for Nevada County. Like all NID’s water operations, the reservoir is dependent on the Sierra Nevada

snowmelt runoff. Recently, NID ran a comprehensive modeling program incorporating 55% unimpaired flow with future effects of climate change. The modeling shows that after multiple dry years, effectively no available water will remain in Scotts Flat for the high-demand summer and fall water seasons, setting the reservoir at “dead pool” in a majority of years. Dead pool is when a reservoir is so low, water can no longer flow downstream. This would be devastating for NID’s treated water and irrigation water customers, recreation facilities and the district’s ability to generate clean hydroelectric power.

As president of NID’s Board of Directors, I vow to work with staff, constituents, and the community to do everything I can to ensure that NID will continue to provide reliable water service to district customers throughout Nevada and Placer counties.

Stay tuned for updates and visit our website at www.nidwater.com to learn more. The State Water Board will consider the options to the Bay-Delta Plan later this year.

Rich Johansen

NID Board of Directors President