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Is 70 the New 100?

The problem is no longer the amount of water, but the ability to move it around

Mar 23, 2011


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MARCH 20 2011

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Denis Prosperi
Chester Andrew
Bob Smittcamp
Russ Waymire
John "Dusty" Giacone
Joe Marchini
Mark Watte
Kole Upton
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Jim Walls

Is 70 The New 100?

It's raining and we've had a lot a rain and snow for the last two years.  It would appear that despite all the rain, the days of 100% allocations for farmers are gone.  Reservoirs are so full they're having to release water to make room for more.  Nevertheless, the Department of Water Resources has announced State Water Project allocations of only 70%.  Is 70% the new 100%.  Is it the best we can get even after two good rain years and all the flooding?  We know it's possible that allocations can still go higher, but the later it gets the tougher it is to make decisions that allow for use of the additional water. 

The problem is no longer the amount of water, but the ability to move it around.  As long as there are pumping restrictions, it won't matter how much water is in the system because we can't move it out of the Delta.   

There are articles below about the flooding, the 70% allocation, the water being released from reservoirs, and the river restoration water that farmers are supposed to get back.  How are we supposed to get back 260,000 acre feet of river restoration water if we can't even get the flood water?  This would not only help farmers plan for their season, but could also have a tremendous benefit for groundwater replenishment; and let's not forget our state has a huge budget deficit that a shrinking ag base will make worse. 

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Rivers and flood concerns on the rise in Sacramento area

The relentless wet weather has pushed flood concerns to their highest level yet in Northern California this winter, with two dozen major river segments now at "monitor" stage.

The city of Sacramento early Friday closed a floodgate on Del Paso Boulevard to keep the rising American River from flooding the road. It was the first time any city floodgates have been closed since the wet winter of 2006.

Spokeswoman Linda Tucker said the city did not expect to close more floodgates, which are designed to keep the American River from backing up into the city when it swells. The gates close gaps in levees that are normally open to traffic.

The river also flooded Discovery Park and portions of the American River Parkway bike path.

Increased water releases from a number of area reservoirs also pushed up the Sacramento River. It spilled into the Yolo Bypass and is expected to continue doing so well into next week. Portions of county Road 22 were closed for flooding.

The Sacramento River also began to flood the backyards of riverfront homes on Garden Highway in Sacramento's Natomas region. Some of those homes, which are built on the water side of the levee, have ground-level structures that flooded.

"There are dozens and dozens of houses that have their garages flooded right now," said Doug Cummings, a Garden Highway resident. "I would say most people are being flooded by about 1-foot depth of water."

Flood-control officials say they do not expect serious problems with continued rainfall this weekend. But they are keeping a close eye on the weather because most area reservoirs are full after a wet winter, and the ground is deeply saturated.

Shasta and Oroville reservoirs on Friday boosted their water releases to 35,000 cubic feet per second – the highest levels so far this winter.
The Feather and Yuba rivers are both projected to reach monitor stage this weekend.

The Sacramento River will be at monitor stage at a number of locations, and is expected to exceed flood stage slightly at Tehama Bridge near Red Bluff – a low-lying area without levees that is often the first to flood.

In Sacramento, the Sacramento River at I Street Bridge is projected to reach monitor stage about 2 p.m. Sunday – the highest water at that location since 2006.

The river also is projected to reach monitor stage at Rio Vista on Sunday. With high winds also expected, this raises concern about erosion danger to levees in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

"The weekend looks pretty wet, and the reservoirs are basically all flirting with encroachment into their flood-control space," said Jon Ericson, chief of the hydrology branch at the California Department of Water Resources. "Everyone's very concerned about inflows and maintaining that flood-control space."

Flooding on local and urban streams is a bigger concern over the weekend.

Roseville city spokeswoman Megan MacPherson said no flooding affecting homes is anticipated. But Dry Creek at Royer Park and Linda Creek at Champion Oaks Drive may reach first-alert stage by Sunday.

The streams would be within their banks at that point. A first alert signals a potential for flooding.

Roseville closed Miner's Ravine Bike Trail on Thursday due to flooding, and it will remain closed between Eureka Road and Orvietto Drive through the weekend.
Chris Ardis, a Sacramento County spokeswoman, said Public Works staff members will be on standby through the weekend for typical weather-related problems such as localized flooding and fallen trees.

By Sunday, high winds will add to the concerns. According to the National Weather Service, winds will sweep the Sacramento Valley from the south at 45 mph, with gusts reaching 70 mph. Toppled trees, power outages and mudslides are possible.

Officials still have a number of tools at hand to avoid major flooding. They include additional water releases from reservoirs, and in Sacramento, the option to open the Sacramento Weir.

This weir is the only one in the Sacramento Valley that must be opened by hand. While other weirs simply allow the Sacramento River to spill into a bypass when water reaches a certain elevation, the Sacramento Weir consists of 48 wooden gates that must be opened manually.

The weir is located on the west bank of the Sacramento River, just upstream of the American River. At very high flows, the American River actually causes backflow in the Sacramento River. The weir is designed to prevent this.

Rules state that the weir is opened only when the Sacramento River is at 27.5 feet and rising at the I Street Bridge. The weir was last opened in 2006.
Friday's projection by the California-Nevada River Forecast Center, a branch of the National Weather Service, calls for the river to level off at 25.5 feet on Monday.

But winter isn't done yet.

"The long-range forecasts have a pretty sizable storm coming in about a week from now," said Rob Hartman, hydrologist-in-charge at the forecast center. "It definitely doesn't look like it wants to dry out, so I think we're going to be in this for a little while."

State Water Project Allocation Increases to 70 Percent
SACRAMENTO March 16, 2011 - The Department of Water Resources (DWR) today increased the 2011 State Water Project (SWP) allocation to 70 percent of contractors' requests, up 10 percent from the January figure.

"As a result of recent precipitation and good water supply conditions, we have increased the allocation,” said DWR Director Mark Cowin. "However, we will continue to conservatively plan for future water needs as we progress through the remainder of the rainy season."

The State Water Project water allocation will increase from 2,503,276 acre-feet to 2,920,488 acre-feet attributable to recent precipitation, runoff and the above-average snowpack.

In 2010, the State Water Project delivered 50 percent of a requested 4,172,126 acre-feet, up from a record-low initial projection of 5 percent due to lingering effects of the 2007-2009 drought.

Precipitation so far this winter is approaching average for the entire water year (October 1-September 30). With recent snowfall in the Sierra and other mountain ranges, statewide runoff is about average for the date and expected to go above average.

Statewide, snowpack water content is 129 percent of average for the date and 125 percent of the average, April 1 seasonal total. Additionally, a majority of California’s reservoirs are above normal storage levels.

Lake Oroville in Butte County, the State Water Project's principal reservoir, is at 113 percent of normal storage for the date. It currently is holding 2,973,694 acre-feet, which is 84 percent of its 3,537,600 acre-foot capacity. Spills were made from the reservoir this week to maintain flood control space. Lake Shasta north of Redding, the federal Central Valley Project's largest reservoir with a capacity of 4.5 million acre feet, is at 117 percent of normal storage for the date, which is 91 percent of its capacity.

Current storage and snowpack levels are good news for California’s agricultural communities and municipal water users.

The State Water Project delivers water to more than 25 million Californians and nearly a million acres of farmland.

Projections of SWP deliveries are adjusted through the winter and early spring as hydrologic conditions develop. DWR is conservative in its projections since farmers and others can suffer if expected amounts cannot be delivered. In November, DWR's first estimate for 2011 was that it would be able to deliver 25 percent of requests. The initial estimate – always low because it is made before the months of heaviest precipitation – was raised to 50 percent in December, and more recently rose to 60% in January.

SWP deliveries were 60 percent of requests in 2007, 35 percent in 2008, and 40 percent in 2009. .

The last 100 percent allocation – difficult to achieve even in wet years because of pumping restrictions to protect threatened and endangered fish – was in 2006.

Water released from reservoirs as storms continue

State and federal agencies have started dumping water from Central Valley reservoirs to make way for rain and snowmelt during a soggy series of storms expected to last into next week, officials said Wednesday.

"We're just in a wet pattern right now centered right over Northern California," said National Weather Service forecaster Johnnie Powell.

The Sacramento area, like most of Northern California, has accumulated more rain than normal for a typical March, "and we're only halfway through the month," he said. Inches of rain in the Sierra Nevada foothills in recent days have caused isolated mudslides and flooding, with more expected.

The federal Bureau of Reclamation is increasing the flow from Folsom Lake, east of Sacramento, from 15,000 cubic feet a second to 25,000.

"The 15-year average for this time of year is 3,500, so it's pretty high up there," said spokeswoman Lynnette Wirth.

Shasta Lake in the northern Sacramento Valley will increase its flow to 25,000 cubic feet a second, from a typical 5,300 this time of year.

The California Department of Water Resources is releasing water from Lake Oroville for the first time since 2006.

"There were adjustments made yesterday pretty much across the board," said Bureau of Reclamation spokesman Louis Moore. "It's a balancing act. You're passing it through the system."

No rivers were near flood stage anywhere in California, said Rob Hartman of the National Weather Service's California-Nevada River Forecast Center. However, the water was high enough that water district managers are routinely patrolling several levees along the Feather and Cosumnes rivers, he said.

High Sacramento River flows were pushing water into the Sutter and Yolo bypasses, low-lying areas set aside to accept overflow.

The heavy Sierra snowpack means flood control agencies can release water from reservoirs now and still capture enough later to ensure summertime water supplies, Hartman said.


Farmers might get 260,000 acre-feet of restoration water back

Farmers who lose water to the San Joaquin River restoration this year might get up to 260,000 acre-feet back, federal officials say. That would fill about half of Millerton Lake.

As they have since October 2009, officials from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation will release water from Friant Dam to keep the river flowing and connected to the Pacific Ocean.

Farmers in 2006 signed an agreement to give up some irrigation water from Millerton Lake for the restoration. Part of the agreement requires federal officials recapture and return as much water as possible.

Bureau officials say the restoration agreement calls for up to 389,355 acre-feet of water releases in a wet year. (An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons of water.) More than half of the water might come back to farmers, officials say.

See the bureau's environmental documents on the project.

Last year, the bureau captured restoration water at the Mendota Pool on the Valley's west side. About 42,000 acre-feet of water was returned to east-side farmers through the vast Valley plumbing for irrigation.



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