Centennial Dam Background


The Nevada Irrigation District (NID) proposes to build a new 110,000 acre-foot reservoir with a 275 foot-tall dam on the Bear River.  This would inundate the last six miles of publicly accessible, free-flowing river on the Bear, completely flooding the Bear Campground, more than 25 homes and 120 parcels, 140 Native American cultural sites, and Dog Bar Bridge, the only crossing of the Bear River between Highway 49 and Highway 174.

In a time of record drought and climate change we need creative solutions to address our local water needs, and big, expensive dams are a thing of the past.

More than half of the water in the upper Middle and South Yuba River watersheds is diverted to the Bear River. SYRCL is concerned that Centennial Dam, if built, could demand even more Yuba River water, especially when dry years leave the new reservoir low.

NID should be looking for alternative ways to manage limited water resources that are environmentally sustainable such as restoring meadows, wetlands, and floodplains. NID should consider a range of alternative actions such as repairing or modifying its aging facilities, improving canal efficiency, incentivizing water conservation, stopping leaks, and metering water. A new dam should be the last alternative considered, not the first.

SYRCL is educating our members about this proposed dam. We’ve let NID know we’re concerned and paying close attention. And as an organization founded to stop inappropriate dams, we are not going to stand by if the Yuba is threatened or if there are better ways for NID to meet its future water needs.

SYRCL has mobilized a team of 1,000 Dam Watchdogs. The Watchdogs are people who have helped and continue to help us scrutinize every angle of the Centennial Dam project and raise awareness of the impacts on the Yuba and Bear Rivers, water supply and wildlife.

The Foothills Water Network (FWN), a broad coalition of more than a dozen local, state and national conservation groups, including SYRCL, is challenging this project. FWN is on top of the formal regulatory process, commenting on what NID should study in its environmental review. FWN also filed a protest of the water rights application as did more than a dozen other agencies including the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, US Bureau of Reclamation, and South Sutter Water District.


Public Action

On October 19, 2020, Foothills Water Network filed substantive comments in response to NID’s long-awaited released 2020 Water Planning Projections. NID’s Water Planning Projections are important because they will be incorporated into important management plans such as the Raw Water Master Plan (also known as The Plan for Water), Urban Water Management Plan and Agricultural Water Management Plan. Those plans will then inform the delayed environmental review for Centennial Dam. Read more here.

On August 28, 2019, NID voted to place a temporary moratorium on property purchases for all projects that had not completed environmental review, including Centennial Dam! This was a huge victory for the Dam Watchdogs. As of August 2020, NID has not purchased any additional properties toward the Centennial Dam project. Read more here.

On January 23, 2019, NID voted to fire the Kolbe Consultants for the Raw Water Master Plan and start the process again. The RWMP, also known as The Plan for Water, is an important foundational document that will feed directly into the Draft Environmental Impact Report for Centennial Dam. Read more here.

On October 9, 2018, SYRCL and FWN held a “Stop Centennial Dam” rally and formally submitted a petition to NID to stop funding Centennial Dam where legally possible until they completed the update to the Raw Water Master Plan (RWMP, also known as The Plan for Water). Instead of approving SYRCL’s resolution, the NID Board Directors illegally voted to “cap” Centennial spending to $2 million – the already approved amount in the 2019 Budget. After SYRCL filed a Brown Act complaint, NID withdrew the “cap.” Read more here.

On May 1, 2018, the California Water Commission (CWC) officially declared the Centennial Dam project application ineligible for Water Storage Investment Program (WSIP) Proposition 1 funding. The Commissioners’ unanimous ruling came late afternoon on Tuesday, May 1, the first day of their three-day meeting focused on finalizing the public benefit ratio scores for all WSIP project applicants. Read more here.

On February 2, 2018, the California Water Commission (CWC) released the Public Benefit Ratio (PBR) for the Centennial Dam Project on the Bear River. According to state technical reviewers of the application submitted by the Nevada Irrigation District (NID), Centennial Dam has a public benefit ratio of zero. Read more here.

On April 11, 2017 American Rivers named the Bear River among America’s Most Endangered Rivers®, shining a national spotlight on Centennial Dam that would irreparably harm the river’s fish and wildlife, recreation and Native American heritage. Read the Most Endangered Rivers report (PDF)

Environmental Review

Last May 21, 2018 letter from The Foothills Water Network (FWN) to the NID Board and April 26, 2018, letter from SYRCL to the NID Board, requests that expenditures, including property acquisitions, legal analysis, planning, engineering, promotion, study, and all field work related to Centennial Dam cease while the Raw Water Master Plan (RWMP) update process proceeds and comes to its objective conclusion. Read more here.

On April 10, 2017, The Foothills Water Network (FWN) submitted a joint letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers detailing an extensive list of actions and strategies which, when bundled together, would eliminate the need for the Nevada Irrigation District (NID) to build a major new dam on the Bear River. Read more here.

On January 11, 2017 a coalition of conservation and community organizations released a memo detailing the costs of the proposed Centennial Dam. Centennial Dam Projected Cost Estimate Reaches $1 Billion (PDF), prepared by Foothills Water Network.

On April 18, 2016, SYRCL & The Foothills Water Network (FWN) filed a comment letter to NID stating its concerns that the proposed Centennial Dam will have significant environmental impacts on the Bear and Yuba River watersheds and surrounding communities. Read the Comment Letter to NID (PDF).

The Centennial Dam proposal has alarmed community members throughout the Bear and Yuba watersheds. Nearly 400 people attended two public meetings about the proposal in early March 2016 to express their concerns about the project’s potential impacts on the environment.

Water Rights Protest

On October 25, 2016, The Foothills Water Network submitted a joint water rights protest to the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) demanding that NID’s water rights application for the proposed Centennial Dam be denied based on environmental, public interest and legal grounds. Read FWN’s Water Rights Protest (PDF). Read the Press Release (PDF).


We expect the Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) will be available in 2021. Join us to learn more.