Another Placer County dam fight?

Bear River eyed by South Sutter Water District for new reservoir
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A dam on the Bear River that would inundate hundreds of acres of seemingly protected foothills oak woodland is finding no support from the Nevada Irrigation District or Placer Land Trust. A Sutter County water agency has started a low-key study that’s raising Placer County eyebrows. It follows past failed efforts to build a dam on the river and inundate parts of both Nevada and Placer counties. Jeff Darlington, Placer Land Trust executive director, said the dam would flood about a third of the 912-acre Garden Bar Reserve his organization secured a conservation easement on two years ago. On the Nevada County side, the Nevada County Land Trust has conservation interests on 2,100 acres of land that will be directly affected by a Bear River dam. The Nevada County trust outlined what it had learned about the plan at a meeting last week of the Nevada Irrigation District Board. That included a list of urban water agencies that the trust says have raised $1 million to pay for initial work on what is being called the Garden Bar Dam. At a height of 350 feet and with a storage capacity of 250,000 acre-feet, the dam would be located between the Camp Far West Reservoir and Highway 49. Besides South Sutter – a small district serving a rice-farming area – others involved in the process are the City of Napa Public Works Department, City of American Canyon Water Department, Castaic Lake Water Agency, City of San Bernardino Water District and the Palmdale Water District. Darlington said that because of the involvement of three Southern California districts, it appears area water rights are being threatened. Under California water laws, South Sutter could build the structure and the Southern California districts could withdraw the water through a transfer in that section of the state. The Garden Bar dam would never necessarily have to hold the water the Southern California users would take. “It’s a publicly funded water grab for Southern California and Napa County,” Darlington said. Jim Bachman, the Nevada Irrigation District director for the Lincoln area, said his district has talked about raising Rollins Dam near Colfax and the concern is that the Garden Bar dam would negatively affect that possibility. “It would be out of the question,” Bachman said. “I’m definitely opposed to it.” The district has also had concerns about the lack of response from the South Sutter district on what its plans are, Bachman said. The Nevada County-Placer water district is attempting to have someone from South Sutter attend a meeting and give them a better idea of what the plans are, he said. “We’re trying our darndest to get South Sutter to a meeting to tell their side of it,” he said. Bachman said that as a lifelong resident of Garden Bar Road, he’s been hearing about the possibility of the dam since he was a child. “It’s been kicking around a long time and I guess those Southern California people are desperate,” Bachman said. A call to the consultant hired by the district to look into the possibility of a dam was not returned Monday. As well as grazing land now under conservation easement, the Nevada County Land Trust is saying land that could be lost would include important historical areas once inhabited by the Maidu Native Americans and traversed by pioneer families. Garden Bar was the last crossing of the Bear River for the Emigrant Trail before its terminus at Wheatland. Darlington said that the area wouldn’t even be able to take advantage of a reservoir for boating. Instead, the land trust is saying the facility will be a pumped storage system. At peak electric hours, pumped storage dams are drained to generate electricity. When there is low demand, they are refilled. “It’s a pump-back dam – it’s not like there would be a lake there,” Darlington said.