On a gusty day in an area of Northern California that deeply understands and respects the power of wind, Mother Nature decided to cooperate for a few hours for a gathering of friends and colleagues, offering a perfect November afternoon to celebrate the start of a long-anticipated water infrastructure project in California.
The second phase of the Gray Lodge Water Supply Project officially began construction in October of this year, but on Wednesday the Biggs-West Gridley Water District (BWGWD) and Ducks Unlimited, in partnership with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation hosted a kickoff celebration at the world-famous Gray Lodge Wildlife Area at the edge of one if its most iconic ponds. This project will eventually improve the water canal system leading into the refuge, allowing it to receive its legally-mandated water for the first time ever upon completion.
The theme of the afternoon?
Collaboration. Partnerships. Working together.
Getting dirt-moving, large projects done by teaming up and pulling in the same direction.
With the Sutter Buttes and hundreds of thousands of satisfied geese and ducks loafing in Gray Lodge’s beautiful ponds serving as a backdrop, BWGWD General Manager Eugene Massa served as emcee for the event. Speakers included Ducks Unlimited’s Manager of Conservation Programs for California, Virginia Getz, who touched on how groups coming together has benefited both habitat conservation and water issues in the state.
“Nowhere is the track record of successful collaboration for conservation stronger than here in the Sacramento Valley,” said Getz. “So much important conservation work has been accomplished through voluntary partnerships and that spirit of partnering is one of the things that makes this Valley so special. Here in the Sacramento Valley, we know how to pull together to get it done. And this project is no different.”
This project will also benefit other species and the people and agriculture of the region, according to California’s Secretary for Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot, who at one point took his tie off to fully embrace being in an area that is referred to as the ‘Jewel of the Pacific Flyway’ due to its beauty.
Other speaker included Biggs West Gridley Water District Gary Justeson and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Mid-Pacific Regional Director Ernest A. Conant.
In addition to all the partners involved directly in the construction of this project, many state and federal agencies, local districts, conservation organizations, the Central Valley Joint Venture, and individuals all played roles in advancing this project. Local artist Miles Hermann also was in attendance with his highly-regarded painting depicting one of Gray Lodge’s ponds, which was provided by The Northern California Water Association.
In 2014, California voters approved Proposition 1, which was widely known as the Water Bond. As a result of that bond, the Biggs-West Gridley Water District, in partnership with DU, was later awarded funding of up to $52,450,000 by the California Natural Resources Agency in August of 2017 to modernize the canals and other infrastructure that convey Gray Lodge Wildlife Area’s water supplies.
Many attendees stayed long after the event ended to watch the ritual fly off at Gray Lodge, in which hundreds of thousands of waterfowl simultaneously relocate for the evening at the same time. Getz summarized it best in her speech regarding how collaboration extends beyond just interagency partnerships, but interspecies as well.
“These birds will fly off Gray Lodge and head out to feed on waste grain and invertebrates in the surrounding flooded rice fields, many of which receive water for growing rice and post-harvest straw decomposition from the same water conveyance system that supplies Gray Lodge’s wetlands. The Flyoff is beautiful, it’s powerful, and it’s inspiring. It reminds us of how rice and wetlands are linked and the importance of the water conveyance work to be accomplished by this project that will benefit both of these habitats. And it motivates us to keep working together to accomplish the important water supply and delivery work that is still ahead of us.”