Rich Johansen and John Norton go head-to-head for the Nevada Irrigation District Division 5 seat vacated by Nick Wilcox, who has announced his intention not to run for re-election after 12 years.
Johansen has been approved by Wilcox, the Nevada County Farm Bureau, and the Nevada County Contractors’ Association, among others. Norton, meanwhile, is backed by former County Supervisor Peter Van Zant, former NID Board Member Nancy Weber and former Planning Commissioner, Supervisor and current Sierra Fund CEO Elizabeth Martin. .
Rich Johansen said he has stayed away from politics in the past, but runs away because water security is âeverythingâ for this community. Without an adequate water supply, he said, people cannot grow food, cannot create fires, cannot support wildlife habitats, and cannot fight fires.
âIt’s the driving force,â he said.
Johansen is no stranger to government, however, having served on the Nevada County Planning Commission and the Agriculture Advisory Board. But, he said, while he helped craft ordinances to benefit the community, none directly addressed water issues.
âWe don’t have an aquifer,â he said. âIf you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. So we’re relying on surface water, and that leads to NID. “
Johansen said he had no plans to run, but chose to do so because Wilcox decided not to seek re-election.
âWe’ve always been talking,â Johansen said, adding that a recurring topic was the âunbelievable lengthsâ that the southern watershed districts will fetch for water.
Johansen said his previous experience had shown him the importance of including the whole community in the discussion, and not just special interest groups, in order to achieve a common goal.
âIf I’m looking at what I want to accomplish, it’s about collaboration, transparency and accessibility,â he said. “It’s that simple.”
Some of the past actions of the NID board, taken quickly due to time constraints, have caused negative public perception, Johansen said.
âSo now we have two camps – people who trust the NID to do the right thing and people who are against the Dam,â he said, referring to the Centennial Dam. âNow we have a divided community. “
Ultimately, he said, the community will decide how to proceed in the next election.
“I’m not necessarily for the jump-off, but I’m not against it,” he said. âI am for increased storage. I have been painted as pro-dam, but personally I have invested in conservation measures.
One idea Johansen would like to see implemented is that of on-site water storage, using 6,000-10,000 gallon tanks along the NID ditches that would be accessible to fire trucks.
“It’s long overdue,” he said.
Johansen said water analysis shows the district’s demand will exceed its supply, leading to the possibility of one-time shortages.
“This is the case for a new dam, a new reservoir,” he said. âWe are in a world of suffering. The state is forcing us to consider a five-year drought. Absolutely, we have to plan for it, and that’s what it does. ”
Johansen said his only doubt about Centennial was affordability, citing the more moderate price of $ 500 million.
“If we can’t afford it, I could name a bunch of agencies that can – and they’d be happy to build it and take water,” he said, citing a possibility of foreclosure water if the NID gave up its water rights. application.
âOur community, our water is my motto,â he said. âWe just have to make it work for ourselves. “
John Norton said he has always had a passion for protecting water resources. Even after his retirement, he continued to volunteer on water issues, serving as a stream monitor for the Sierra Streams Institute, as well as the Lake Wildwood Lake Committee.
âThere is something about the water challenges,â he said. “I am a problem solver and (water) is a never-ending challenge.”
He had attended the board meetings and said others in attendance began to encourage him to run for the Wilcox seat.
Norton’s top priority is to bring attention to the district’s aging infrastructure. He said the district had postponed maintenance and wanted to sort projects based on their risk factors and make sure there was money in the budget to tackle those projects, as well. only reserves, in the event of catastrophic failure.
“I think the NID needs to roll up its sleeves and get back to its core business, get back on track,” he said. âI don’t know how they got so far off the track. “
He also believes the district should find a way to control what he called endless rate increases and must restore financial health and reserves. The NID, Norton said, should look at its budget, and in particular staff and non-core projects.
âLook at bonds, can these be refinanced? ” he said. âLook at the administrative staff – can you cut down on the bureaucracy? The NID has a lot of assets – can these be rented or sold? “
Finally, he said, the district should look at the rates.
âNew projects are good, but you have to prioritize,â Norton said. âI’ve thought a lot about Centennial. I did not come for or against. I am not against roadblocks. Where I am right now, I can’t stand it. There are far too many unanswered questions. “
Norton cites the recently released hydrological report as evidence that the district embarked on the project without doing due diligence.
âThe NID spent a lot of money on properties and engineering reports, but they never looked at the economic impact,â he said. “How are we going to pay for this?”
NID is considering a 7% per year tariff increase to balance the budget, Norton said, at a time when farmers in the district say they cannot afford water tariffs as they are now. . Adding a $ 500 million project would double treated water rates and bankrupt farms and ranches, he accused.
“Are the new reports telling us we need a roadblock?” Norton said, calling the numbers inconsistent and inflated.
âPart of what bothers me about the Centennial project, if you think it’s a brilliant, wonderful, necessary idea why didn’t you get the questions answered early on and then sell it to the community ? ” he said. “They acted like it was obvious.”
Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or email [email protected]