After reading this morning’s article in the Sacramento Bee, it certainly seems like a viable option.
Even with unseasonably warm temperatures and little to no rain in the forecast for at least the next seven days, the operators of Folsom Dam are going to more than double the flows in the lower American River to protect against flooding.
“We are required to maintain safe space in the reservoir,” said Louis Moore, a spokesman for the Bureau of Reclamation. “That’s what we’re doing.”
Moore said the releases are mandated in Folsom’s nearly 30-year-old manual drawn up by the Army Corps of Engineers. Similar flood-control releases from Folsom this year have drawn criticism from local water agency officials and some hydrology experts.
They say there’s a lack of flexibility in a system that requires dam operators to release water when Folsom Lake rises to a specified height, even if no storms are forecast and the state is trying to maintain stored water supplies in Year Five of a historic drought.
The new releases were particularly irksome for some local water district officials, who learned Monday that regionwide conservation numbers for January – a mere 11 percent – were by far the lowest since the state mandated cuts last summer.
Tom Gray, general manager at the Fair Oaks Water District, said it’s hard to tell customers to keep conserving in a drought when federal dam operators are letting billions of gallons wash out from the very reservoir that supplies much of the region’s water supply.
“I think some of our customers are going to believe we are crying wolf,” Gray said.
Reclamation officials said Monday they’re preparing to increase releases below Nimbus Dam into the lower American River from 3,000 cubic feet per second to around 7,200 cubic feet per second to create space for runoff from Sierra snow. A storm last week – the only significant precipitation in February – dropped more than a foot of snow across much of the Sierra.
Officials say the releases are necessary because the reservoir’s storage is at 131 percent of the 15-year average for late February, and the snowpack in the central Sierra is more than four times greater than at this time last year.
“Should inflows into the reservoir continue at current levels or increase, additional releases may be required,” Reclamation officials said in a statement.
Officials warned that starting at 5 p.m. Monday, they’ll start incrementally increasing flows by 500 cubic feet per second and continue until flows on the lower American River reach 7,200 cfs by 1 a.m. Tuesday.
After two days at this rate, flows will be gradually ramped down, officials say.