THE SPENCEVILLE WILDLIFE AREA FACES SERIOUS THREATS
The Spenceville Wildlife Area, an 11,213 acre wildlife preserve, managed by the California State Department of Fish and Game, is about 30 minutes west of Grass Valley off Highway 20.
The Yuba County Water Agency (YCWA) has proposed, but is not currently publically advocating, a multiple dam complex that would flood the Spenceville Wildlife Area. The Green Scissors report found that as little as 50 cents in benefits would be realized for taxpayers for each dollar spent. This proposal, called the "Waldo Reservoir", would inundate more than 4,20 acres of public and private property, 3,500 acres of which would be within Spenceville. The maximum height of the reservoir would be 200 feet and would inundate the vast majority of Dry Creek, and its riparian habitats, within the reserve when the reservoir was full.
Private property owners in the area would have their land taken again, as occurred during World War II when thousands of acres were purchased against the owners' wishes by the Federal government to create a mock German town for military practice.
The estimated cost for the proposed Waldo Dam Project is $118 million for the construction of the dam and reservoir, and $60.5 million for the conveyance facilities, which include the tunnel and canal facilities (Bookman 1996). These figures are based on the construction of the 300,000 foot storage area. According to Bookman and Edmonston Engineering construction costs outlined in their reconnaissance study are higher than anticipated and it is not explained why. Annual costs, including amortization, and operation and maintenance, are estimated at $14,106,000. In addition to the project construction, 3.8 miles of local roadway would need relocation due to submersion. Electrical transmission lines and possibly a gas line would also need to be moved.
YCWA's proposal would divert Yuba River water to Spenceville from Englebright Reservoir through twelve miles of canals and ditches. Three dams would be built to contain the reservoir. Although the Yuba River at Englebright Reservoir is targeted as the main water supply, water may also come from Deer Creek. Runoff would also supplement the reservoir's water. Water diversions to Waldo would be primarily carried out in wet years or during winter and spring high flows, during times when the flow at Engelbright is greater than what is needed to provide the required fish and irrigation flows downstream, and when the Sacramento Delta is in excess. This reservoir would be a "variable-rate" reservoir -- meaning that it could stand as a dried mud-lined bowl for several years at a time.
The Army Corps of Engineers in October 1997 issued its "Draft Feasibility Report on the Yuba Basin." This report, which was six years in the making, was sponsored by the California Reclamation Board and the YCWA to evaluate flood control alternatives in the Yuba River basin. All alternatives were evaluated, including new dams, new diversions, refitting of existing dams and diversions, bypasses and levees. New dams were specifically rejected in the Army Corps report. The report concludes that "based on technical, economic and environmental analyses of the preliminary alternatives, the only plan that was economically and environmentally feasible was the modification of existing levees along the Yuba and Feather Rivers." (Draft Army Corps Study, 1997 pg. ES-2). Army Corps has put forth a plan that would give 300 year flood control to the area without dams.
The 1998 update of the California Water Plan by the California Department of Water Resources still lists Waldo Reservoir as a possible off stream reservoir.
With any project there are likely to be disadvantages, and the Waldo Project presents an array of significantly negative impacts on the Spenceville Wildlife Area and possibly on surrounding communities. Habitat loss and degradation is one of the greatest detriments of the Waldo Project; approximately half of the wildlife area will be inundated, impacting all habitat types and decimating its rich riparian corridor. A website map illustrates the extent of inundation over the Spenceville Wildlife Area and demonstrates the degree to which habitat loss will take place. Habitat loss has become a major issue all over the world. With California's and Yuba County's recent increased population, the rate of habitat loss has been accelerating and quickly approaching a point that will bring about drastic changes to our State's economic and natural well being. Wildlife suffers the greatest from our conversion of the natural landscape to projects, such as the Waldo Reservoir, developed in the name of "progress". Inundation of SWA will lead to the loss of substantial amounts of riparian, oak woodland, and wetland habitats; the loss of these specific habitats will result in the decline of present numbers of wildlife who depend on these habitats for food sources and nesting needs. The loss of habitat and serious decline in wildlife species is a trend throughout the United States and globally (Houle 1995). Worldwide, one half million to two million species will become extinct by the year 2000, according to the Global 2000 Report to the President. The rate of extinction is expected to increase from 1 species per day in 1980 to one per hour by the end of the century (Houle 1995).
The various types of wildland recreation served by SWA will be seriously impacted as well. Many visitors to the wildlife area enjoy the hiking, biking, and equestrian trails that wind along Dry Creek and end with a refreshing rest at the base of Shingle Falls. Hunting and fishing opportunities also exist at SWA; the Wildlife Area is a favorite among those who hunt wild turkey. Inundation of nearly half of the Wildlife Area will significantly limit these activities. There will also be a loss of cultural and historical resources, most of which have not been fully documented.
Some local landowners are likely to see benefits from the Waldo Project, but many may view the project as invasive of privacy and as a loss of economic well being because valuable grazing lands will be inundated.
LOSS OF HABITAT
The riparian habitats of California are one of our State's most valuable features and before the late 1800's these rich ecosystems braided through our landscape as lush green ribbons running along the banks of rivers and streams. Often described as "lush jungles of oak, sycamore, ash, willow, walnut, alder, poplar, and wild grape" (Sands 1980). These plants create dense walls of vegetation that provide the most excellent wildlife habitat for cover and foraging .
Riparian zones provide for a greater variety of wildlife than any other habitat found in California (Sands 1980), and more bird species nest in this forest type than any other California plant community (DePuydt 1997). Twenty-five percent of California's mammals depend on the riparian habitat and 21 of those mammals are facing threats of extinction due to habitat loss (DePuydt 1997). Riparian zones provide important migrational corridors for many types of mammals. In SWA these corridors provide back-tailed deer with a migration route from the Sierra Nevada Mountains; this may be one of the last remaining deer migration routes left due to development in the Sierra foothills (Smith 1996).
The blocking of this winter migrational route by a large body of water is likely to negatively impact the black-tailed deer populations by separating them from other deer populations with which they breed. The lack of interchange between breeding populations leads to isolated populations and the degradation of a species gene pool because members of the same population are subject to interbreeding, genetic drift, or both (Smith, R. 1992). Close inbreeding can be detrimental because rare, recessive, deleterious genes are expressed and can result in death, decreased fertility, smaller body size, or loss of fertility among other things (Smith, R. 1992). Genetic drift is important because the population experiences a lack of genetic variation among its individuals, which can result in vulnerability to disease and environmental change (Smith, R. 1992).
Songbird numbers have been steadily declining due to habitat loss and many of those species are dependent on riparian forests. The complex vegetative architecture consisting of closed canopies and stratified vegetative levels of riparian forests provide extremely important habitat for sensitive passerine bird species such as the yellow warbler and the yellow-breasted chat, both of which occur at SWA (Williams 1995). The willow flycatcher is present at SWA through the months of May through August often occurring along Dry Creek, Little Dry Creek, and Cox Creek. This bird is a California Listed Endangered Species.