Film Festival Attendees Spoke, and CA Officials Listened!

One goal of Wild & Scenic is to show stellar environmental and adventure films. Another is to use the event as a platform for activism. Each year, we choose one action related to SYRCL’s work, one way that attendees can plug in and get involved in a real, local issue. At the 2018 Wild & Scenic Film Festival, we asked attendees to participate in a letter-writing campaign telling the California Water Commission (CWC) that the proposed Centennial Dam on the Bear River does not qualify and thus should not receive public funding from Proposition 1’s Water Storage Investment Program (WSIP).

What does this mean? Basically, the Nevada Irrigation District (NID) has proposed building a dam on the Bear River and they applied for state funding to support that project. If built, this 275-foot dam would flood the last six miles of publicly-accessible, free-flowing river on the Bear. It would destroy fish and wildlife habitat, beloved swimming holes, and Native American cultural sites. Centennial’s construction would decimate 2,200 acres of forested river canyon – including riparian and wetland areas. In the 21st century, SYRCL thinks dams are a last resort because they harm the environment and have skyrocketing costs. Today, smart water managers are using sustainable and innovative solutions to meet future water needs.

To fight this threat, Wild & Scenic called on the collective energy and passion of its attendees last January asking folks to tell the CWC that this is an irresponsible project that does not benefit the public and thus is ineligible for the funding. We gathered over 3,400 letters asking the CWC to find NID’s proposal ineligible. The people spoke and state decision-makers ultimately agreed; Centennial Dam would not create net environmental and recreational benefits as required.

On Tuesday, May 1st, the California Water Commissioners unanimously ruled that the Centennial Dam project application was ineligible for funding through Proposition 1 Water Storage Investment Program. 

NID, the Centennial Dam applicant, did not appear at the CWC meeting to contest this decision. However, Melinda Booth, Executive Director of the South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL) testified during public comment in support of the ineligibility ruling.

“We would like to take this opportunity to thank the Commission for your demonstrable commitment to a transparent and open public process—one that stayed true to the requirements of the Water Storage Investment Program as endorsed by public vote back in 2014,” said Booth. “In addition to the 3,000 letters opposing WSIP funding for Centennial we delivered in February, I have 400 more with me today asking you to take the final step and vote Centennial ineligible.”

Last summer, NID claimed a 4.19 public benefit ratio (PBR) on their original Centennial Dam application. Yet, they received a PBR score of “Zero” on February 2, 2018, from CWC technical reviewers, which NID did not appeal. A PBR score of zero means that for every dollar of Proposition 1 funds spent on Centennial, the Centennial project would provide $0.00 of public ecosystem and recreational benefits to California and Californians.

“Zero cents on the dollar is a horrible rate of return for California taxpayers. Once again, the proposed Centennial Dam proves itself to be a financial boondoggle for ratepayers and taxpayers,” said Booth.

The PBR is one of four scoring components in the WSIP application evaluation process. The PBR score determines how much WSIP money a project could be awarded, since the WSIP funds are intended to pay for the public benefits of water storage projects. Now that the Centennial Dam project has been found ineligible, the Centennial application will not move forward in the Commission’s evaluation process. Final application scores for all eligible projects should be posted on July 6, and “Maximum Conditional Eligibility Determinations” will be decided at the Commission’s July 24-26 meeting.

“Thanks to the Commission’s May 1 ineligibility declaration, the Centennial Dam application will not be part of the WSIP ranking process,” added Booth. “While this action in itself does not stop the project from being built, it does seriously question the viability of Centennial’s premise.  A panel of California state experts found no value in the project as related to public benefits.”

If you are interested in learning more about how you can participate in the campaign against Centennial Dam, become a Dam Watchdog today. Also, mark your calendars for August 1! Wild & Scenic will be hosting a film screening accompanied by a panel of experts discussing the implications of building a massive new dam on the Bear River. More details soon to come!

More information regarding the Water Storage Investment Program may be found online at: https://cwc.ca.gov/Pages/Home.aspx.