News & Operations Blog

Reclamation Implements Folsom Reservoir Power Bypass to Help Protect Salmon on the Lower American River

Posted on Thursday, October 14th, 2021

This week, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation initiated a Folsom Power Bypass to reduce river water temperatures and protect salmonids as spawning season begins on the Lower American River.

A power bypass allows Reclamation to access and release cold water below the power unit

Photo credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

penstocks at Folsom Reservoir, thereby reducing river water temperatures to benefit rearing steelhead and spawning fall-run Chinook salmon. This is especially critical given that the LAR this summer was operated to a temperature of 71° F due to the extremely dry hydrology and low Folsom Reservoir storage. Technical analysis showed that the power bypass will not deplete the Folsom cold-water pool prior to the end of November, when ambient air temperatures are expected to lower water temperatures to a point where a power bypass is no longer needed.

Reclamation performed an analysis on the benefit to fisheries and impacts of the lost power generation. Given the extreme conditions this year, it was agreed that an early power bypass approach is warranted and will have significant biological benefits. Beginning October 11, Reclamation began to increase cold-water releases in increments of 50 cfs to reach 150-350 cfs of cold water until daily average water temperatures reach 62° F.  On or around October 25, Reclamation will increase the bypass, not to exceed 350 cfs, to maintain daily average water temperature of 56° F measured at Hazel Avenue.

“A power bypass is a critical tool for lowering temperatures in the Lower American River just as salmon are beginning their return to our region,” said Water Forum Executive Director Jessica Law. “We appreciate Reclamation’s partnership and flexibility in implementing this tool during this exceedingly challenging year.”

This decision was informed with technical analysis completed by the Water Forum’s consultant team, CBEC ecoengineering and Cardno, and reflects broad agreement from the State and Federal agencies that participate in the American River Group, a multi-agency and stakeholder technical team that coordinates fishery and operational requirements for the Lower American River.

OPINION: How Drought Affects the American River’s Salmon

Posted on Monday, October 4th, 2021

BY RICH DESMOND AND RON STORK

Stop and ponder this for a moment: In the American River passing through the Sacramento metroplex, giant fish swim by after surviving three or more years in the wild Pacific Ocean. These are our native fall-run chinook salmon. For thousands of years — long before there was a Sacramento — they have migrated from the American River to the Pacific Ocean and back on a three- to four-year cycle.

These fish are the basis for commercial and recreational salmon fishing in California and all across the West Coast. According to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California’s commercial and recreational salmon fishery generates more than $500 million in revenue annually. If you buy wild-caught salmon at a restaurant or farmer’s market in California, it may have originated in the American River or another Sacramento River tributary.

Sacramento is blessed to be one of the few major metro areas in America with a wild salmon run in our midst. What does this mean? It means that amid our highways, neighborhoods and high-rise buildings, there remains an ecological cycle integral to our natural world. Because salmon are such a rich source of nutrients, their annual return to the river has fed humans, animals and even plants for millennia. It’s a cycle deeply intertwined with human health and prosperity.

Unfortunately, our salmon are suffering this year. These majestic fish — each over 2 feet long and weighing over 20 pounds as adults — have fought their way back to the Lower American River from the ocean only to find hostile spawning conditions.

Continue reading the full article in Comstock’s here.

Rich Desmond is a Sacramento County supervisor representing Carmichael and Ron Stork is a senior policy staffer for Friends of the River.

State Must Cancel San Joaquin’s Application to Claim Water from the Lower American River

Posted on Wednesday, September 29th, 2021

BY JESSICA LAW
SPECIAL TO THE SACRAMENTO BEE

When the Water Forum Agreement was signed over 20 years ago, the occasion marked an unprecedented show of regional cooperation and an end to the water wars that had plagued the Sacramento region for decades. For years, business interests, environmentalists, water suppliers and others had sparred over the water needs of people vs. the environment. At the center of this conflict was the lower American River.

Now, a decades-old application by San Joaquin County is threatening to ignite a new era of water conflict by petitioning California to take 147,000-acre feet of water from the American River — an amount of water equal to 15% of Folsom Lake when full.

As we are painfully aware, Folsom Lake is nowhere near full, raising more urgent concerns about how San Joaquin’s application, if approved, could threaten supplies in times of drought.

Prepare for the Worst, Hope for the Best

Posted on Monday, September 27th, 2021

By Jessica Law

Last week, the State Water Resources Control Board received presentations from the directors at State and Federal agencies focused on the unwelcome new challenge of planning for a worse-case water year, which starts on Friday, October 1st. The presentations echoed messages that Water Forum members recently heard from Reclamation’s Kristin White, that conditions are historically dry not only in California but across the Western United States.

The core message was sobering: prepare for the worst, hope for the best. Each director emphasized that the joint strategy is a risk-management approach to assessing impacts and weighing options to secure California’s water supplies. With a strong focus on planning for another dry year, they outlined a suite of options to ensure that basic health and safety needs are met next year. These include coordinated use of reservoirs and mandatory conservation requirements in the near future. There was also a strong emphasis on local actions and the solid partnership and close coordination between State and Federal agencies.

Check out additional coverage of the meeting here.

Our region has been working on these issues, but can always do more. Over 20 years ago, the Water Forum Agreement was the catalyst for the formation of the Regional Water Authority and the Sacramento Groundwater Authority, which have helped ensure our groundwater basin can be healthy and ready for longer droughts. This conjunctive use effort will be key to our future.

Conservation Update and Local Reductions
The numbers are in! Last week, we learned how we are collectively doing on conserving water around the state. In July, consumers statewide reduced water use by 1.8 percent overall with the state’s North Coast region reaching the highest conservation levels at 16.7 percent, according to the State Water Board and news media reports.

Locally, water use remained about the same in July but saw an encouraging trend downward in August, with a 6 percent decline in overall water use compared to the same period last year, according to the Regional Water Authority (RWA).

RWA is carefully tracking information for the region. Amy Talbot, RWA Water Efficiency Program Manager, says that there has been a 12 percent swing in the Sacramento region’s water use in the last three months. Compared to 2020, regional water use rose in June by 6 percent, leveled off in July, and then declined in August by 6 percent.

“This is exactly the use pattern we would expect to see once we declare a drought and start messaging,” she said.  “Drought response is not like a light switch—it takes time for the message to sink in, for customers to respond and for that response to show up in production data. We are anticipating increased reductions as the year progresses. We know that 6 percent isn’t 15 percent, but we are just getting started.”

In addition, recent reductions are on top of an overall 13 percent decline in regional water use since the 2015 drought and are occurring even during record-breaking summer heat when water use typically increases, she said. RWA recently prepared a fact sheet describing factors impacting the region’s water use in 2021. You can find it here.

Overall, remarks last week echoed what we have been learning over the past several months about the growing water and environmental emergency in the Sacramento region, across California, and the West and reinforces the Water Forum’s August resolution urging a 15 percent reduction in water use.

It is clear that our work is only beginning.

Image credit: State Water Resources Control Board

Water Forum Successor Effort – Plenary Meeting

Posted on Monday, September 27th, 2021

Water Forum Successor Effort – Plenary Meeting

Thursday, September 30, 2021, 5:30 pm – 7:30 pm

AGENDA*

5:30     Welcome and Introductions

5:45     Drought Actions: Investments in Climate Change Resiliency

             Presentation and breakout groups

7:00     Water Forum 2.0 Process Update

7:30     Adjourn

* Updated 9/29/21

Drought Report Offers Sobering Assessment and Call to Action

Posted on Monday, September 20th, 2021

By Jessica Law

Folsom Lake, 2014 (Photo Credit: CA DWR)

The Water Forum has been working closely with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to coordinate a response to drought conditions and reduce impacts to regional water supplies and the health of the Lower American River.

We recently welcomed Kristin White, Operations Manager for Reclamation’s Central Valley Project, to provide an update on drought conditions in California and across the Western United States at the Water Forum Drought Plenary. What she shared was both stark and sobering. It was a glimpse into the problems facing federal and state water managers during this extraordinarily challenging water year.

And she also offered a call to action—a role for all of us to play in reducing water use—as federal and state agencies continue their work to prepare for potentially devastating water supply conditions that could result from continued drought in 2022.

Here are some of the key points Kristin shared during her presentation.

Conditions in the American River Region

In the Sacramento region, 2021 is the third driest year on record for Folsom inflow and the center for major snowpack loss. “What hit us so hard this year was the loss of our snowpack,” Kristin said. The snowpack was deeper this winter than in the drought years of 2014-15 but only a fraction of its runoff made its way into creeks and rivers.

Kristin explained that in normal years, most reservoirs start with low storage at the beginning of the water year (which runs October 1-September 30), increase to a peak storage in the spring and then end low. This year, Folsom started low and will end even lower, noting that peak storage at Folsom this water year occurred on October 1, 2020.

On the other hand, Kristin noted that Folsom has a “very high refill potential,” and there’s a “decent chance” that Folsom will be able to recover to “decent storage” next year even if the weather remains dry into 2022.

Second Driest Year in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Watersheds

This year has been the second driest year on record in the Sacramento-San Joaquin watersheds since the development of the Central Valley and State Water Projects, second only to 1977, Kristin said. Putting this into perspective: The state’s major reservoirs—Shasta, Oroville, Trinity, Folsom and New Melones—held 10 million acre feet of water (MAF) on October1, 2019. Those reservoirs are expected to collectively hold less than 4 MAF of water by October 1, 2021.

Shasta generally represents about a third of total storage for the statewide system. In 2021 Shasta inflow was the driest on record—about 200 thousand acre feet (TAF) worse than in 1977 and 250 TAF worse than in 2014. In addition, Oroville, which has a slower refill rate than Folsom, is at record low levels.

To help relieve pressure on Folsom, Oroville and Shasta this summer, Reclamation for the first time in history was able to draw upon New Melones to meet Delta outflow and water quality regulatory requirements. This was possible because new Melones started relatively high. However, storage levels are now less than we had going into 2014.

Disappearing Snowpack not Limited to California

Across the Western United States, drought conditions cover more than 93 percent of the land in seven Western states with nearly 59 percent of the area experiencing extreme or exceptional drought. This is the highest coverage this century and includes all of Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and most of Utah.

The Colorado Basin, which serves around 40 million people, is experiencing its 22nd year of drought and earlier this summer, the reservoirs hit their lowest levels since they were originally filled. The entire state of Idaho is in a moderate to exceptional drought, and March through June were among the driest on record. To make things worse, June and July have been among the hottest on record. Boise broke heat records in June beyond the two previous worst years of 1876 and 2015.

One key component shared by most of the large western water systems: relying on snowpack as the largest reservoir. The disappearing snowpack experienced in the American River watershed occurred in most of the basins, Kristin said. The Upper Colorado Basin, for example, saw around average snowpack with only 26 percent of average runoff.

“We Need Everyone to Help”

With minimal storage going into winter, continued dry weather into 2022 would be “devastating,” Kristin said. On July 8, 2021, Governor Newsom signed an Executive Order calling on all Californians to voluntarily reduce their water use by 15 percent compared to 2020 levels. Both Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources are working on emergency planning but will need help from all Californians to conserve the limited water supplies that are available. “We will not be able to get through a dry 2022 alone—we just won’t have the storage,” she said. “We will need everyone, all of California, to step up and help prepare for what could be a devastating year.”

—————————————–

Reclamation selects Levi Johnson for Central Valley Operations Deputy Manager

Congratulations to Reclamation’s Levi Johnson, who was recently named Deputy Manager for the Central Valley Operations Office.

Levi works closely with Water Forum stakeholders and other federal, state, and local agencies; water and power users; the environmental community; and stakeholders to deliver efficient and equitable water solutions. The Water Forum team looks forward to continuing our work together!

Change Order

Posted on Friday, August 27th, 2021
The following change order for releases a Nimbus Dam was issued today:
Date           Time             From (cfs)      To (cfs)

 8/31/21       0001                700                600
Note:   Storage Conservation

Change Order

Posted on Monday, August 23rd, 2021
The following change order for releases at Nimbus Dam was issued today:
Date                 Time                  From (cfs)               To (cfs)

8/25/21            0001                      800                         700

Note: Conserve storage

Agenda Posted for Aug. 26 Water Forum Drought Conference

Posted on Monday, August 23rd, 2021

2021 WATER FORUM DROUGHT CONFERENCE PLENARY MEETING
FINAL AGENDA
THURSDAY, AUGUST 26, 2021
5:30 – 7:30 P.M.
VIRTUAL – VIA ZOOM*

Introductions and Disclosures
2. Western Drought – Regional Impacts
3. Water Forum Resolution on Drought Actions (Opportunity to Caucus)
4. Breakout Group Discussions on Drought Actions
5. Next Steps
6. Adjourn

*Please contact Ana Ayala at aayala@waterforum.org for virtual meeting login information.

Change Order

Posted on Friday, August 20th, 2021
The following change order for releases at Nimbus Dam was issued today:
Date                 Time                  From (cfs)               To (cfs)

8/22/21            0001                      900                         800

Note: Conserve storage