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GRASS VALLEY, Calif. March 1, 2017 – NID Board members met in a special meeting to declare an emergency due to the collapse of a 40-ft section of the South Yuba Canal, some 3.5 miles in on Lowell Hill Road in Nevada County. NID staff and PG&E representatives provided a status update on the Feb.10 incident to the directors. The emergency declaration was adopted by a 4-0 vote, with Director Miller absent.
In an email to YubaNet, PG&E spokesperson Brandi Merlo confirmed that PG&E discovered the landslide on Friday, February 10 and communicated with NID the same day. The canal was out of service when the slide happened. It has a capacity of 107 cfs. “We are working to complete the restoration as soon as it is safe and reasonably possible. Design options are being reviewed and assessed accordingly. We don’t have a timeframe or cost estimate at this time,” Merlo stated. The site is approximately 3.5 miles from Lowell Hill, in very inaccessible terrain. Snow is impeding safe access to the site, as seen in this picture taken over the weekend.
NID Engineer Chip Close briefed the board members on the situation, stating NID personnel found the collapsed section during a routine inspection. For the past 18 days, both NID and PG&E have been assessing the extent of the damage. Close stated the hillside is still active and is covered in snow right now. PG&E’s Hydro Partnership project manager Judy Peck said the scope of the repairs, possible alternatives and cost are being assessed with safety being a paramount concern. The damaged portion of the canal is located on Tahoe National Forest land and both the USFS and FERC were informed on Feb. 10, according to NID’s timeline.
NID released a statement after the meeting which reads, in part: “NID has issued a declaration of emergency for the canal breach, which will help facilitate repairs and reduce adverse impacts to water supply during the coming months. NID is utilizing the natural flow of Deer Creek to meet customer demand while repairs are underway. NID and PG&E are working collaboratively to complete the necessary repairs as soon as possible. ”
No Impact on Drinking Water
NID has several pumping stations, will will result in zero impacts to drinking water customers, Close said. Currently, NID is using their lift or pumping stations to pump water back into the DS, Cascade and Chicago Park systems. Water supply to the Elizabeth George (18 million gallons/day) and Loma Rica (8.3 million gallons/day) plants is uninterrupted, thanks to that.
Emphasizing that drinking water is not at risk, Close said the 40 ft section of the collapsed canal will need repair, as will at least 150 ft of footing for the flume. Weather and accessibility will dictate how fast the repairs can be executed.
Irrigation Water Could Experience Shortage this Summer
The irrigation water will be sufficient for the start of irrigation season on April 15. If repairs take several months, irrigation water might experience curtailments. Pumping water out of Scotts Flat is not sustainable during summer months, Close explained. The purpose of the emergency declaration is to give the district the tools necessary to reduce agricultural water allocations, institute restrictions and also apply for funding for alternatives.
Directors Wilcox and Drew were quite proud to point to the backup system, completed only last year, that now provides water to close to 13,000 customers in the Grass Valley and Nevada City areas.
Director Nancy Weber asked if the media and thereby the public were informed of the collapse. When Close responded they were not, Director Weber asked district staff to make available basic information about each dam NID currently operates, either on the district’s website or via the media. She stated the public has a heightened awareness of infrastructure damage or potential risks after the series of damaging winter storms. Director Wilcox disagreed and said it was inappropriate to make such a request, he didn’t think the public has any trust issues.
Editor’s note: We respectfully disagree with Director Wilcox, the public has a right to know as soon as possible when ratepayer-funded infrastructure is collapsing or can pose a long-term issue to ranchers and farmers in Nevada County.