Op-Ed | Bruce Herring: Consider all alternatives to Centennial Dam

Dear NID Board,

If I were a member of the board I would be proud to represent such a storied, well respected, and well run organization. I would be proud that “we” have a history of expertly managing our extensive system of water delivery, power generation, and recreational facilities. Proud that we have successfully tested cutting edge solutions to reduce mercury laden sediment in Combie and Rollins. I would know we stand on solid financial footing and employ a legion of loyal quality personnel.

I would also know that despite all our expertise there are some things we don’t have all the answers for. Hence from time to time we contract or partner with other organizations and entities with more knowledge of certain concepts and systems.

I would recognize we do have the expertise to move forward with the Centennial Reservoir project. But I would also recognize we have not put in due diligence to study or even thoroughly consider all possible alternatives.

I would know that large multi-purpose dams were the first preferred alternative to flood control, water delivery, and hydro-electric power systems from the late 19th century thru most of the 20th. But no major dam has gone up since the 1970’s, and a growing number have been decommissioned and removed. I would recognize that recent academic, environmental, and agency research suggests that large dams should be the last preferred alternative when solving such problems.

So what is the problem? Uncertainty surrounding climate change and NIDs ability to ensure continued reliable service to our Placer County service areas. We also assume the state will continue to require and perhaps increase the amount of free flowing water into the Delta.

If I were a member of the board I would know that state, federal, and academic recommendations for dealing with the uncertainty of climate change is to maximize adaptive capacity. I would know, as does the current board, that most climate change models suggest Sierra precipitation will fall more as rain instead of snow, and that this is already happening, which strains a system designed for prolonged snow melt capture.

Yet the bigger problem lies in the plan to address this by building a dam – by definition a fixed solution – that does not in any way lend itself to the maximization of adaptive capacity.

Case in point: Nearly 200,000 people were evacuated due to the impending crisis at Oroville Dam, where the adaptive ability of the dam operators was severely limited. In 2005 SYRCL, the Sierra Club, and Friends of the River suggested to Oroville Dam that the auxiliary spillway had a potential fatal flaw and should be encased in concrete. That suggestion was rejected.

There is great uncertainty in climate change models, state requirements, annual rainfall, whether Centennial would fill, whether more diversions from the Yuba would be necessary, project costs, who fits the bill, and how many Nisenan cultural sites will be lost. But a 21st century problem requires 21st century solutions.

I would urge we cease further movement toward Centennial, and tap the proven expertise of the Foothills Water Network, the academic community at UC Davis, and pertinent government entities to perfect a plan encompassing the following preferred alternatives;

• Enhance and restore upstream meadows and wetlands
• Increase surface and groundwater through better forestry practices
• Raise Rollins Reservoir and increase sediment removal
• Repair and upgrade existing infrastructure that is aging, inefficient, and leaking badly
• Incentivize water conservation
• Meter ditch water rather than sell it by the quaint but wasteful Miner’s Inch
• Gray water use, rainwater harvest, and low flow toilets

If I were a member of the board I would also be concerned about the ongoing lack of transparency. Why was this project so far along with millions spent before the public knew about it? Why was it 18 days before the public knew about storm damage to the South Yuba Canal? NID proceedings have always been shrouded by a mysterious bent for secrecy. Let’s begin live streaming of meetings now.

NID is us, FWN is us, we are friends and neighbors. We already work together to a certain extent. We can take the next step and create a workable plan that would serve as a model for other watersheds, establishing how we address water and climate issues for the remainder of the century. Without a dam we would be in position to nimbly address concerns as they arise by maximizing our adaptive capacity.

Let’s work together to do this right.

Bruce Herring

7 COMMENTS

  1. Yes! I would add that conservation by users may be the largest “source” of water. However, when customers conserve, the revenue from water sales may decrease? I urge NID to not only live stream their board and committee meetings, but the records could be indexed and archived, to support the development of an informed public. The cost for such an effort is minuscule, compared to public benefit. Thank you, Bruce! I truly hope that NID will slow down on this ill-conceived proposal.

  2. California’s economic plan includes what is known as 20X2020. It is a plan to conserve water at a 20% level, much like California’s have been doing for the last 4 years. If we adopt this plan, it will save 1.6 million gallons of water a year. That is 20 times the average annual yield of the Centennial Dam. Think about that. If we adopt the 20X2020 plan, it would conserve more water than building 20 large dams in California. We would not need to dam a river or tax ourselves beyond our ability to pay either.
    http://www.water.ca.gov/wateruseefficiency/sb7/docs/20x2020plan.pdf

  3. Mr. Herring, thank you for such a fine Op-Ed. It is well rounded, succinct & is exactly what many of us THINK.
    Scientific Study a few years ago had it that storing water in reservoirs was an ineffective way to store precious water. I find it interesting that when the Article about the Proposed Centennial Dam first appeared in local newspapers and on Yubanet, that the REASON for the need of the Dam on the Bear River was to divert water to Lincoln and the over built Greater Roseville Area. That tid bit of information is no longer discussed in any of the articles thereafter. These over built areas, as well as many others in CA, were built up with no plan for water resources needed. Sustainability is something all of us should plan for in many Resource ways for the Future. Oh, but the TAX money gained! Poor planning and destroying biodiversity in this precious area with yet another Dam is not an avenue we should be taking. “The thing about SCIENCE, is that it is the TRUTH.”

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