Following the Globe article Friday about the state draining reservoirs even with the dry year California is facing, we noted that California’s largest reservoirs less than two years ago were absolutely teeming with water from 107% to 145% of average. Water expert Kristi Diener said California’s reservoirs held enough water in 2019 for everyone who relies on them for their water supply, for 7 years.
A longtime friend of the Globe, Graig Gottwals, an attorney and professional bass fisherman, reported another infuriating aspect of the draining of California reservoirs – specifically Folsom Lake in the Sacramento region.
“I’ve lived near and bass fished Folsom for 17 years now,” Gottwals said. “Beginning roughly 10 to 12 years ago, the state decided that whenever the lake dropped under 400 feet in elevation, boaters had to abide by a 5 mph speed limit. This was for purported safety reasons – more of the bubble wrapping of America.”
Gotwals said this is insane and actually stupid. “I suspect the real reason was that the State didn’t want to have to continue to mark hazards on the lake below a certain level so they just decided to stop doing their job once the lake got below some arbitrary level.”
He says the lake is below 400 feet for a few months in nearly every year. “And just like on any lake, responsible boaters simply stay in the river channels to run around. Clear Lake, Oroville, and Shasta get low too – but the state (Oroville), feds (Shasta) and Lake County (Clear) don’t put speed limits on those lakes. Granted, Folsom is more hazardous due to all of the rocks, but it is an ignorant move that angers we fishermen and other recreational users off to no end. We all buy $225 annual passes that effectively become useless once the lake goes 5 mph.”
“But I’ve never seen it below 400 feet in MAY. And now they are saying that it likely will not hit 400 feet at all this year. Again, to my knowledge this has never happened. What is worse is that the State has been holding Folsom artificially low at just under 400 feet for months now.”
You can see that here:
This is a historical problem in California with the State Water Resources Control Board. In 2015, the Sacramento Bee reported that the lake still was be drawn down to historically low levels during the summer “as part of a complicated plan to rescue the endangered winter-run Chinook salmon.” However, the Bee reported “the reservoir is being drained more slowly for the time being ‘to provide peace of mind to everybody who’s watching this,’ said Les Grober, assistant deputy director of the State Water Resources Control Board. “Everybody’s very concerned about Folsom.”
This is part of the state’s “temperature control plan” for the Chinook salmon. But it seems there are consequences to this plan:
“Keeping more water in Shasta creates a slew of other problems. It’s depriving farmers of more than 200,000 acre-feet of water during the height of the growing season. It also has led to more water being drained out of Oroville and Folsom to prevent salt water from intruding on the environmentally sensitive Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the hub through which billions of gallons of water are pumped to the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.”
Officials have said Folsom Lake levels likely will fall to 120,000 acre-feet by the end of September. That’s well below last year’s record low of 150,000 acre-feet. An acre-foot is almost 326,000 gallons.
In the Sacramento region, more than 200,000 people rely on water drawn from Folsom Lake, including residents in Folsom, Roseville and portions of Granite Bay, Fair Oaks, Citrus Heights and Orangevale. Officials in the region have expressed fears that a draw-down to 120,000 acre-feet would cut into the margin of error, bringing the lake below levels at which the valves that deliver that water would work.
“Folsom’s going to be a true symbol of ‘we’re all in this together,’ ” said water board Chairwoman Felicia Marcus at a board meeting Tuesday.
“Whatever amount of water comes in is then released later in the day,” Gottwals said. “The Folsom Lake Marina is reporting that they doubt the speed limit will be lifted this year.”
“Is this for environmental reasons and/or incompetence? I suspect it is but there is also a good degree of anger over the fact that El Dorado County is conducting a water intake project on the lake. There is more than a little speculation that they are the ones who’ve convinced our state to keep dumping much needed water from Folsom. They vehemently deny this.”
See here for pictures, opinions and the project manager’s contact number. “The fact that they can hold that lake this low in a drought is really angering.”
Craig shared one more related issue on Oroville: “It is now projected to be the lowest since 1977. And of course, all of this after we were full to the rim 2 years ago.”
According to forecasted storage for Lake Oroville, summer water levels are expected to drop below the record low of 645 feet set in September of 1977.
As of Friday, May 21 Lake Oroville is at 718 feet above sea level. The water is forecasted to hit its low point during October.
It was only in 2017, after an extremely wet winter, mass quantities of water tore a hole into the Oroville Dam spillway, threatening 200,000 residents of the region with flooding.
When water is let out of reservoirs and disappears downriver and out to sea, water consumers have a difficult time taking the state order to conserve water seriously. Because anything water consumers conserve is not held. Many Californians want to know why.
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