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The original item was published from 6/7/2019 9:25:40 AM to 6/8/2020 2:00:00 AM.

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Posted on: June 7, 2019

[ARCHIVED] Op/Ed by Curt Aikens: Helping build a brighter future for Yuba County

60th Anniversary text overlaying the Yuba River

In the 1950s, our county leaders had the incredible vision and fortitude to conceive and construct a series of dams and hydroelectric plants for the betterment of Yuba County. This was an incredibly bold mission for such a small, poor county to take on to reduce flood risk and secure our water supply reliability for the future. I am proud to say that Yuba Water Agency has continued its tradition of taking and implementing bold actions for the benefit of the people of Yuba County.

June 4 marked Yuba Water Agency’s 60th anniversary. I truly believe this anniversary represents an impressive six decades of actively fulfilling our missions of reducing flood risk, generating carbon-free energy, supporting recreation opportunities at New Bullards Bar Reservoir, providing reliable water supplies to local irrigation districts and groundwater management programs to ensure a reliable valley groundwater aquifer, which is the sole source of water for 80 percent of Yuba County residents.

We’ve worked hard with our local community, state and federal agencies, Congress and many others to positively impact Yuba County. Through our planning with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and our support of the Three Rivers Levee Improvement Authority and the Marysville Levee District, the urban areas of our county are on the verge of being one of the best protected urban areas at risk of flooding in the region.

Several of our major accomplishments include:

- Construction of New Bullards Bar Dam and Reservoir

- Implementation of the Lower Yuba River Accord

- Leadership, planning and funding of urban levee improvements

- Funding of the Feather River Setback Levee

- Sustainable groundwater management

While we have accomplished a lot, there is much more to do. We are focused on ensuring that our current and future projects, programs and investments have a direct impact on those who live and work in Yuba County.

As a requirement of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, we must renew our license that permits us to use public water for energy generation, which is estimated to cost $230 million over the term of the license. The license allows us to continue operating the project, generating and selling power, and it includes requirements designed to ensure safety, and to protect and enhance environmental resources and recreation.

While there have been incredible improvements in urban flood protection, a similar effort is needed for the rural levees in the years ahead. 

To further reduce the risk of flooding, enhance dam safety and provide climate resiliency for Yuba and Sutter counties, we are moving forward with the permitting and design of an estimated $160 million secondary spillway at New Bullards Bar Dam (that’s an early cost estimate). This new spillway will allow us to release more water from the reservoir, in advance of large, threatening storm events, freeing up space in the reservoir to hold back peak flows when the biggest part of the storm arrives. It will also enhance dam safety by providing a second, independent spillway that by itself can handle a major storm event like 1997.   

In the meantime, where we can find a connection to our missions, we’re investing in the community through forest resiliency efforts to improve water supply and quality, while reducing fire risk in the foothills. We are additionally partnering in residential water conservation programs for low income households, to help them improve water conservation, which will save money on water bills, and in grants for first responders to improve public safety, just to name a few.

We’re also seriously exploring several new educational activities, including a possible water education center in Yuba County, and we will be in discussions with school officials and educators to figure out the best way to educate students and the public about the Yuba River, as well as universal, watershed-based information.

Yuba Water Agency has done remarkable things for Yuba County in the last 60 years, and there is so much more that we can do in the next 60. I’m proud of our accomplishments, but I’m more excited to make an even bigger impact for the people who live and work here.

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