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April 5, 2018 – I first learned that NID was planning another dam and reservoir on the Bear River on August 25, 2012 after a Nevada Irrigation District (NID) Board meeting. The South Sutter Water District (SSWD) was there to report that they and their Southern California allies had abandoned their proposed Garden Bar Dam on the Bear River, but they would still need water for their farmers. I asked a NID Director about SSWD’s concern, and his answer was that there would be plenty of water from the planned ‘Parker Dam’, now Centennial Dam.

When Centennial was finally made public, NID was proposing to dam the Bear River canyon between Rollins and Combie Reservoirs inundating a beloved six mile stretch of river recreation, fishing, camping, hiking, and 140 Native American cultural sites. Centennial capacity would be a 110,000-acre-foot reservoir behind a 275 foot tall dam and the projected cost began a steady increase from $160 Million to over $1 Billion.

Not surprisingly Centennial has drawn a broad spectrum of criticism and concerns, and opposition.

The Foothills Water Network (FWN) is the umbrella organization of the Save the Bear, Stop Centennial campaign. Some 13 organizations and over 200 citizens have protested the NID application for water rights to the State Water Resources Control Board that currently benefit SSWD’s farmers and the Delta ecosystem. Protestants include neighboring Placer County, the South Sutter Water District, and the Placer County Water Agency.

Save the Bear, Stop Centennial supporters have been attending NID Board meetings in droves demanding openness and information about NID’s dam plans. It took over a year, but NID finally installed a basic video system providing for more public involvement. Recently concerned citizens have asked for Centennial project updates at every Board meeting. However, NID decided to shuffle Centennial updates to their Engineering Committee meetings, that are not video broadcast, the staff and two Board members cannot speak to policy issues, and the meetings are more easily cancelled.

At the 2017 Wild and Scenic Film Festival (WSFF) sponsored by the South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL), some 2000 attendees registered as ‘Dam Watchdogs’, committed to track and act on Centennial issues. That number has grown to 3000.

On April 11, 2017 American Rivers listed California’s Bear River among America’s Most Endangered Rivers®, shining a national spotlight on the proposed dam that would irreparably harm the river’s fish, wildlife, recreation, and Native American heritage. Please go visit the day use area to experience the beauty and power of the Bear River Canyon.

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NID submitted an application to the California Water Commission (CWC) for some $12 million dollars from Proposition 1 water storage funds. At this year’s WSFF, SYRCL gathered over 2500 signatures on a petition to the CWC opposing State funding for Centennial and began sending representatives to CWC meetings. NID self-calculated a Public Benefits Ratio of $4 of public benefits to every dollar spent. Independent CWC evaluators calculated a Public Benefits Ratio of ZERO based on NID’s incomplete and confusing application. One NID Board member stated the zero ratio was “well deserved” and the Board voted unanimously to not appeal the zero rating.

Concerned citizens have questioned why NID is wasting rate and tax payer money buying private property, conducting engineering studies, and shamelessly promoting the project before it has been evaluated and approved. Homeowners report that NID is telling them they better sell now because the dam and reservoir is a ‘done deal’ and future prices will fall. Ultimately homeowners are threatened by eminent domain seizures by NID.

Centennial is not a ‘done deal’. Over the next 18 months there are significant process steps ahead for NID and the community that can stop the dam. NID is required to produce a legally sufficient Environmental Impact Report and approve it by a vote of the Board at a public meeting. NID must obtain a dredging permit from the United States Army Corps of Engineers who are required to approve the least environmentally damaging project alternative based on a legally sufficient Environmental Impact Statement. And NID must secure water rights from the California State Water Resources Control Board against the wishes and better judgement of neighbors, wildlife agencies, and the public.

The future is still ahead, but the basic questions remain unanswered: Is it really needed? Is the dam the only way? What is the true cost and financing plan? What are we losing?

Peter Van Zant is a Centennial Dam Work Group volunteer. He is a former Nevada County Supervisor and a former President of the SYRCL Board of Directors. He lives in Nevada City with his wife Mary.

5 replies on “Op-Ed | Peter Van Zant: Centennial Dam, A Long Road Ahead”

  1. I would love to know where this public access refers to is located. What road leads to this area?
    ” visit the day use area to experience the beauty and power of the Bear River Canyon.”

  2. NID is still trying to keep the public in the dark. As information becomes better understood, the massive support they claim has been dissolving away. Most people are not willing to hurt neighboring communities, and destroy their economies. The Bear River Canyon is populated with your friends, and neighbors, and schools; just like the people over in Nevada County. Not only would the proposed dam take away people’s homes, our 250 acre river park and campgrounds, but the proposed Dog Bar Bridge replacement and thorough-fair would forever alter our rural way of life. Weimar School on Weimar Crossroad is blocked with traffic during school pickup just like Hwy 174 near Union Hill School, except the Weimar Crossroad would become the high speed connector between 1-80 and Hwy 49. The other option is Crother Road where Live Oak Waldorf School is located. Kids walk and ride their bikes to school just like in your neighborhoods except our kids would be riding and walking next to high speed traffic. Most people’s homes on these narrow country roads are within 20 feet of the road. The proposed new road would take these homes as well. The lucky ones would have a freeway in their front yard. These are your neighbors who drive over to Nevada County, spend money at your businesses, and contribute to local culture and communities. We are all connected and how people in Placer County prosper will affect how those in Nevada County will prosper.

  3. Thank you, Peter and Dianna. When we first moved here in 1996, we lived in Meadow Vista and our daughter attended the Live Oak Waldorf School, so all those roads are very well-known to my family. Irreparable harm would be done to this Placer County countryside with its quiet, winding roads and pines, by transforming them into speeding fast lanes, going nowhere but serving as a quick route from one high speed highway to another. And also enabling unbridled real estate development along the way. The Bear was our family’s first California river. We later discovered the Yuba and the American, but the Bear Canyon with its rocks and clear, rushing water was and still is amazingly beautiful to us as former East Coasters. The Bear was #2 on American Rivers’ 10 most endangered rivers list, second only to the Colorado. Inserting a third dam in such close proximity to the two other existing dams on this river is unconscionable and grossly unaccountable to the public. The Bear River’s heart of flowing water, ancient trees, and sacred sites speaks with love to all those who are willing to hear and care for it.

  4. Thank you Peter for this letter. I echo your concerns and criticisms. As the California director for American Rivers for last 18 years, and the former director of the national Hydropower Reform Coalition, I have been involved in reviewing the benefits and costs of over 100 dams, some of which we fought to remove because they had outlived their usefulness or become public hazards, and others we supported continued operation with improvements to protect the environment. Based on my experience as a professional and as a 20-year customer of NID, I just do not understand what is driving NID’s pursuit of Centennial Dam. 1) They have not provided evidence that the dam is needed to meet current or future water supply needs. Remember the 4-year drought we wen through? NID never needed to ask customers to cutback their water use. They only did in the final year because the State ordered them to. 2) They have not demonstrated that building the dam is the best use of our money. Even the California Water Commission determined the dam provided NO PUBLIC BENEFIT. Honestly NID, why are you pushing for this unnecessary, costly and destructive dam?

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