By Trina Kleist
And both sides appeared optimistic about their prospects during a public hearing before the Nevada Irrigation District board on Wednesday.
The negotiations come as NID applies for state licenses on 10 water right permits it holds for the district’s distribution system. Directors voted unanimously to continue those talks for up to three months, while also approving a report that concludes the licensing would have no environmental impact.
Groups working with NID on the issue and represented by Foothills Water Network include American Rivers, based in Nevada City, the Sierra Club and California Department of Fish and Game.
They are asking for more water in Deer Creek below Lower Scotts Flat Reservoir; in Bear River downstream from Combie Reservoir, where it crosses Highway 49; and in Coon Creek, the next watershed south of Bear River, in northwestern Placer County.
All three host or could host trout. Coon Creek has excellent fish habitat and flows through Spears Ranch Regional Park, said Northern California/Nevada Conservation Chairman Allan Eberhart of the Sierra Club, with an office in Grass Valley.
Group members also are asking for more water in Auburn Ravine, the next watershed south of Coon Creek. That waterway has seen steelhead and salmon, and environmentalists are looking for ways to help fish get around barriers in the waterway.
More studies are needed to determine how much water in each waterway is needed, environmentalists said.
An agreement on the matter would allow most of the groups that have protested the district’s water licensing application to drop their protests, said Chris Shutes of California Sportfishing Protection Alliance.
“There are costs associated with what we’re asking NID to do,” Eberhart said. NID potentially could recover those costs by selling that water downstream or “banking” the water for environmental improvement to the Sacramento-San Joaquin river delta, Eberhart said.
Foothills Water Network coordinator Julie Leimbach praised district officials for working with environmental groups “in good faith.” She promised no surprises would pop up during the coming discussions.
She also will provide a briefing paper on the groups’ interests. Negotiations would lead to “a plan in place for targeted studies to answer any data needs, and a plan for implementation,” Leimbach vowed.
The Department of Fish and Game also supports the strategy, said environmental scientist and Water Rights Coordinator Lauren Dailey.
By approving the environmental document while negotiations continue, the district is protecting itself from other groups that could file a new protest, NID lawyer Jeffrey Meith said.
The strategy can help NID avoid the financial and time costs of court challenges to the environmental documents, Division 5 Director Nick Wilcox said.
Staff from the state’s licensing agency, the Water Resources Control Board, also support this route, Eberhart added.