Due to the persistent drought and seemingly little water left in California, the fight for who gets what has been in full force.
The New Melones Lake which forms the New Melones Dam, the fourth largest reservoir in California, is located on the Stanislaus River, east of the San Joaquin Valley and serves primarily as irrigation water supply to the Valley. In 2014, the dam was drained about 60,000 acre-feet by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, approximately enough water for 500,000 people; in context, that is just under the entire population of Stanislaus County, which stands at 525,491 per 2013 U.S. Census Bureau estimates.
In their initial 2015 water supply allocations announcement for the Central Valley Project (CVP), based on a “conservative estimate” of the amount of water that would be available for delivery to CVP water users, the Eastside water service contractors were set to receive zero percent of their contract quantity stating the reason being as a lack of available CVP supplies from New Melones. The water allotment was scheduled to be re-examined on a monthly basis, considering a variety of factors, but assuming that drought conditions will persist.
In collaboration with other federal and state fisheries agencies, the local water districts and the State Water Resources Control Board, the Bureau met to discuss issues relating to pulse flows on the Stanislaus River, specifically relating to steelhead and Chinook salmon which are federally protected species. The agreement will allow the required pulse flows to be accomplished as previously scheduled, while protecting water supplies in New Melones Lake for later this summer.
The Bureau, per the agreement, has scheduled pulse flows from Goodwin Dam, which is downstream from New Melones, to begin April 11. Releases will be increased from 200 cubic-feet per second (cfs) over several hours to 1,500 cfs and then down on Tuesday morning to 1,300 cfs.
In addition to the pulse flow release, the Districts plan continued collaboration with the Bureau on increasing water conservation this year. The water the districts conserve this year will be available to the districts in the 2016 water year.
Additionally, Lake Tulloch is expected to have normal operations through Oct. 1, but lowering of supplied water levels after Oct. 1 will depend on inflows into New Melones. Calaveras County Water District’s municipal supply from Lake Tulloch will not be interrupted.
The districts and the resource agencies will continue to work together on managing operations at New Melones to meet fishery resource needs through the summer.
“I am very proud of the work we put into resolving the pulse flow concerns,” said David Murillo, the Bureau’s Mid-Pacific Regional Director. “It shows what can be accomplished when people are willing to sit down, roll up their sleeves and work toward a common goal.”
U.S. Representative Jeff Denham (R-Turlock) sent multiple letters regarding the issue to the Bureau of Reclamation, NOAA Fisheries, the State Water Resources Control Board, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife calling for emergency consultation proceedings; he released a statement on the successful negotiations.
Denham had called for a plan that provides for reservoir and river releases to allow for conservation of water in New Melones and Tulloch Reservoirs for as long as possible, and to provide certainty that the Stanislaus River would have flow throughout the rest of 2015.
“After extensive negotiations I am pleased to see the Bureau and the districts moving forward with an agreement that protects agriculture, people and the environment,” said Denham. “The districts brought tremendous data and scientific knowledge to the table, while protecting their livelihoods, and the federal and state agencies worked overtime to ensure the agreement was sound. It's an important step forward as we prepare for the hot summer months ahead."