Weird fact. By acreage, the second largest water district in California is in one of the state's most remote counties. Nevada County. 248,000 acres to be somewhat exact.
The Nevada Irrigation District (NID) originated during the California Gold Rush. Water, after all, was the engine that drove the powerful late 1800's economy that made fortunes for the brave risk-takers pulling the ore from the ground. Today, the water flowing through many of the same the canals, reservoirs, rivers, and streams is used for far more than mining.
NID-managed reservoirs store water used in fire suppression - something that is an ever-present threat for anyone with close proximity to the woodland/urban interface. The canals that thread throughout Nevada and Placer counties supply crop irrigation and keep golf courses green. Under the streets of municipal areas within NID's service areas are water mains and feeders to homes for residential uses. Camping, mountain biking, backpacking, water sports, and wildlife habitat are only possible because Nevada Irrigation District manages the reservoirs and their watersheds with a commitment to safe, quality recreation and conservation. The flumes, forebays, afterbays, penstocks, and fantastically engineered powerhouses at the bottoms of NID dams send sustainable electricity through the high-voltage lines that run everything from electric toothbrushes to Teslas.
Nevada Irrigation District has been one of my clients for several years now. I'm a fan. Together, we've been filming through summer and this fall to capture some of the most beautiful areas in Northern California. In short, I'm proud of the work this sort-of hybrid public/private agency does in my back yard and on behalf of my neighbors and friends. They are often the subject of controversial opinions around here. They've got a big job on their hands.
Not only are they managing the water crucial for all of these mentioned uses, but they must protect the natural resources that coexist with the water. It's easy to take a shot at utilities like NID or even PG&E. Especially when the only news that seems to appeal to the drama junkies in the media starts with this or that failure. There are billions of annual decisions and actions that prove NID is a reliable, responsible, and well-run organization. Their lean, committed staff is in the field every day; rain, shine, fire or frost. They operate and maintain an enviable fleet of vehicles. They employ local contractors when they don't have the skill or gear they need to get the job done.
Here's the thing. It's an enormous job. Nevada Irrigation District uses sciences and engineering disciplines to inform the big decisions. They rely on crews in the field, face to face with customers to understand whether the science or engineering is right. For a guy who looks for story under every rock, it's a gold mine. I hear the casual conversations between guys mucking out ditches to keep them flowing, or technicians who know how to replace a bearing on a piece of machinery installed in 1965 that magically transmogrifies water at the bottom of a dam into a glowing lightbulb 73 miles away. They all have crazy stories.
Who knew a guy with a rake that set out to remove decomposed oak leaves from a canal rescued a woman's cat from a tree? Or an NID road crew that set out to keep the road to the penstock clear of snow stopped to dig a stranded resident out of his driveway? These are not just ordinary people. They are also men and women committed to their community. In a county like Nevada or Placer, everyone is a neighbor.
One thing I've learned from filming with the people in the white trucks with blue logos, is gratitude. Our county, and our neighboring counties, are indebted to the risk-takers that are the business and development side of NID. We should not forget the day-to-day ditch tenders, hydroelectric techs, recreation rangers, flume repairmen, and the host of water workers who make sure our expectations and hopes for reliable, safe water and electricity are there when we need them most.
Now it's in my hands to show the world what I've found with my camera, lenses, and microphones.