News & Operations Blog

Get to know a few of the engineers making a difference in the Water Forum

Posted on Wednesday, February 16th, 2022

February 20-26 marks National Engineers Week—a time to celebrate how engineers make a difference in our world. Here at the Water Forum, engineers are found in every caucus and on the Water Forum team. In honor of this special week, we are proud to profile a few of the engineers who, indeed, are making a difference at the Water Forum, in their organizations and our community.

Click on each name below to learn more about that person’s educational background, professional experience, Water Forum involvement—and even their secret talent and what they love about the lower American River. #WeLoveOurRiver

And… THANK YOU to all of the wonderful engineers who were brave enough to participate in this project and answer our questions!


Water Caucus member Kerry Schmitz, Water Supply Division Chief with Sacramento County Water Agency, holds a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering and started working with the Water Forum in 2009. Find out why she specifically asked to be assigned to the Water Forum and why she “can’t get away from water”—even in her personal life.

 

 


Environmental Caucus member Clyde Macdonald represents the Save the American River Association in the Water Forum. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Engineering and an MBA. You may know that Clyde worked virtually all of his career in the California legislature in various capacities, including serving as the lead staff person in the Assembly on the six years of Peripheral Canal legislation. But, do you know his secret talent?

 


Business Caucus member Holger Fuerst is Engineering Manager with MacKay & Somps Civil Engineers and represents the Building Industry Association in the Water Forum. He holds two bachelor degrees in Civil Engineering and Engineering Management. Learn about his salmon snorkeling adventures in the lower American River and his stint on the German National basketball team.

 


Public Caucus member Gary Bardini, Director of Planning for the Sacramento Flood Control Agency, holds a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering. His 35+ year career has been dedicated to integrated water management—from his many years of public service at DWR to SAFCA today. Learn about his favorite work-related project so far (hint: it has to do with flood safety) and his favorite activity on the lower American River.

 


Ashlee Casey is a Senior Engineer at the Water Forum. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering and master’s in Environmental Engineering. Her years in the Peace Corps in Suriname taught her “how to navigate complicated dynamics within relationships while also advancing conversations around technical concepts”—so ideal for the work of the Water Forum! Learn more about Ashlee, including her secret talent (Iron Chef anyone?).

 


 

Ashlee Casey, Senior Engineer, Sacramento Water Forum

Posted on Wednesday, February 16th, 2022

Water Forum Staff

Educational background

Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering, University of Portland (Oregon) and a Master’s in Environmental Engineering, Michigan Technological University

Professional experience

Leading and supporting water resources planning projects in California, including drought planning, flood management, and feasibility level analysis.

Favorite work-related project so far 

I served in the Peace Corps in Suriname and was a liaison for UNICEF during my second year. The program I supported was aimed at improving the health in remote villages through awareness and training related to water and sanitation issues, and required significant coordination and facilitation with partner organizations, technical staff, and the people living in the villages. Through the process I learned a tremendous amount about myself and how to navigate complicated dynamics within relationships while also advancing conversations around technical concepts.

History with the Water Forum

Joined as staff in November 2021.

Why it is important to be involved in the Water Forum

As a Sacramento resident and a parent with young children, the threats to our region posed by climate change can be overwhelming and daunting. I am so grateful to have the opportunity to support the efforts of working toward regional water supply reliability while simultaneously protecting the lower American River.

Most valuable lesson learned (or advice) when it comes to coming to agreement

Listen and keep an open mind.

What’s unique about the American River region

There are not many cities in the world with a resource like the American River Parkway. The scale and level of community commitment to the protection and preservation of the Parkway, for both environmental and recreational purposes, is so special. The parkway offers a needed reprieve for humans and wildlife alike in an otherwise very urban area.

Favorite location and/or activity on the lower American River

Running the horse trails is my most frequent activity, but canoeing sections of the river with my family is probably my favorite.

Secret talent

Using random ingredients to make dinner in 30 minutes or less.

Personal motto

This one is hard. I guess I have a few that I remind myself of to help keep me centered… “All you can do is your best” and “Everything is temporary and change is constant.”

Gary Bardini, P.E., Director of Planning for the Sacramento Flood Control Agency

Posted on Wednesday, February 16th, 2022

Public Caucus

Educational background

Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo. I’m also a Licensed Civil Engineer.

Professional experience

35 years of public service with the State of California and the Sacramento area providing strategic planning, policy development and engineering services to promote integrated and sustainable management of the state’s water resources. At SAFCA, I direct the formulation, refinement, coordination and policy administration for SAFCA’s strategic and project-level planning initiatives. Prior to working for SACFA, I served as the Integrated Water Management Deputy Director for the California Department of Water Resources.

Favorite work-related project so far 

At Folsom Reservoir, the completed auxiliary spillway alleviated dam safety concerns and provided needed release capacity to safely implement conditional storage under Forecast Informed Reservoir Operations (FIRO). The associated 2019 water control manual update lowered the intuitional barriers previously inhibiting a formalized FIRO operation.

FIRO as the future of flood operation is well recognized. The recent technology advancement in weather forecasting and improved understanding of atmospheric river phenomena as related to flood events in California have increased flood forecast skills for both volume and timing. Reliable seven- to ten-day-ahead forecasts are already achievable. This creates opportunities to refine reservoir operation to allow additional conditional storage in flood control space to increase water supply and environmental benefits. The recently completed Lake Mendocino FIRO Viability Analysis demonstrates the maturity of such a 21st-Century practice.

History with the Water Forum

Co-partner with the Water Forum on the Lower American River Task Force (LARTF) focuses on flood, environmental, and recreational management issues affecting the lower reach of the American River from Folsom Dam to the Sacramento River. In 2002, Task Force participants collaborated in preparing the Lower American River Corridor Management Plan (RCMP) to successfully provide a framework for integrated management of this reach of the river. Recent issues addressed by the Task Force include U.S. Army Corps bank protection upgrades, the Natural Resource Management Plan, the update of the Folsom Dam Water Control Manual.

Why it is important to be involved in the Water Forum

Over the past 30 years, SAFCA has completed various projects to reduce flood risks for the Sacramento area. One of the remaining programs needed to reach SAFCA’s goal of 500-year flood protection are completion of American River bank protection projects and implementation of the American River Multi-Objective Forecast-Informed Reservoir Operations (FIRO) Program. SAFCA’s involvement with the Water Forum is critical to the success of these initiatives.

Most valuable lesson learned (or advice) when it comes to coming to agreement

Continue to balance future water needs with environmental protection that build on these existing regional and multi-agency-specific efforts. Water agencies in the American River Basin continue coordinated planning efforts to improve flood risk reduction and regional water supply reliability such as the North American Basin Regional Drought Contingency Plan, update to the American River Basin Integrated Regional Water Management Plan, and the Regional Water Reliability Plan.

What’s unique about the American River region

The lower American River is the only urban waterway to be designated a “Wild and Scenic River” by state and federal governments. Nearly 5 million people each year to enjoy its unique ecological resources and recreational opportunities. With 43 species of fish, including endangered steelhead trout and Chinook salmon, the river also provides important habitat for the anadromous fisheries of the Sacramento River Basin. It is also home to a rich diversity of wildlife and waterfowl. The City of Sacramento and adjacent metropolitan areas comprise the largest growth area in northern California in the past two decades.

Favorite location and/or activity on the lower American River

Rafting down the river and observing the surrounding natural environment.

Secret talent

No secret talents. Just a promoter of better integrated water management.

Personal motto

Take risks.

Holger Fuerst, Engineering Manager, MacKay & Somps Civil Engineers, Representing the Building Industry Association (BIA)

Posted on Wednesday, February 16th, 2022

Business Caucus

Educational background

I grew up in a Navy family in Germany. There, I graduated with my “Abitur” after 13th grade. (Back then, Germany had an additional year of high schooling compared to the traditional school system in the United States). For five of those early schooling years, I lived in and went to school in Washington, DC where my dad was stationed at the time. After graduating high school, I came back to the United States to go to college at the University of the Pacific (UoP) in Stockton, CA from which I graduated with two bachelor degrees in Civil Engineering and Engineering Management and a minor in math. During my time at UoP, I played Division 1 basketball on a full-ride scholarship. Following college, I entered the engineering consulting profession and got my professional engineering license (P.E.).

Professional experience

I have been employed in private sector engineering consulting in the Sacramento region for almost 32 years with a primary focus on entitlement engineering and processing of large-scale communities/master-planned communities.

Favorite work-related project so far 

Given that entitlement processing of large-scale master-planned communities in California will typically take 10+ years, there is no such thing as “instant gratification” with such projects. It is thus the small victories along the way that make it all worthwhile for me as a consultant. And the fact that it takes a team of consultants, each experts in their own fields, to make it all happen is extremely gratifying. As an engineer, I find that working in a very dynamic team environment under a constantly changing regulatory framework can be very challenging, but keeps it interesting and rewarding. I get to work side-by-side with any and all parties involved in the entitlement process, from numerous other consultants, to investors, developers, builders, various stakeholders, and staff from regulatory agencies, including policy makers at various levels—never a dull moment.

History with the Water Forum

Having worked with Jim Ray for over 20 years, I couldn’t help but get exposed to the Water Forum and its impact on local water agencies’ ability to implement capital improvements. Long-term water supply reliability is a critical component of being able to meet the regional housing demand for years to come and, as such, has always been a key part of my work.

Why it is important to be involved in the Water Forum

(See above response.)

Most valuable lesson learned (or advice) when it comes to coming to agreement

Mutual respect, listening and understanding, and a willingness to compromise are key to reaching agreement on contentious issues.

What’s unique about the American River region

Everything…  Its history, its biodiversity, its location (running through the heart of this region), its recreational value, its value as a critical water supply source….  It truly represents the uniqueness of the Sacramento region.

Favorite location and/or activity on the lower American River

My wife and I are very active, outdoorsy types that love to boat, fish, and scuba-dive. As part of our local dive club activities, we participate in the annual Great American River Cleanup where we as divers float down the river and pick up as much trash off the bottom as we can. It’s definitely a worthwhile activity.

But one of my favorite activities on the lower American River has got to be a “salmon snorkel” that we’ve done several times with our dive club. During the peak of the fall salmon run, we would enter the river just below the salmon gate below Hazel Ave. wearing our wetsuits and snorkel gear. Then we’d float head first down-river while coming face-to-face with numerous salmon. Definitely a unique experience.

Secret talent

Not sure that there’s anything ‘secret’ about my history playing basketball at the highest international level, but in 1987 and 1988 I got to join the German National Team and play in international tournaments all over the world prior to the ’88 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. Unfortunately, our team did not qualify for the medal rounds. These days, I’m learning to kite surf—a ton of fun, but not so easy to learn when your body tells you that it’s not as young anymore as you want it to be.  😁

Personal motto

Work hard-play hard, and keep a healthy balance in life.

Clyde Macdonald, Representing the Save the American River Association

Posted on Wednesday, February 16th, 2022

Environmental Caucus

Educational background

Bachelor of Science in Engineering, UC Davis, and Master of Business Administration, UC Berkeley

Professional experience

I worked virtually all of my career for the California Legislature in various capacities: Legislative Analyst’ Office; Chief of Staff of the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee and for the Local Government Committee; Minority Consultant for the Natural Resources Committee; Office of Research; and personal staff of the Assembly Pro Tem and the Budget Chair.

Favorite work-related project so far 

I was the lead staff person in the Assembly on the six years of the Peripheral Canal legislation (1977-82), which was challenging, fascinating, and engaging.

History with the Water Forum

I joined the Water Forum in 1994, after discussions with Bill Edgar (Manager, City of Sacramento) and Bob Thomas (Sacramento Executive Officer).

Why it is important to be involved in the Water Forum

I love rivers and water policy. The lower American River is one of the best river parkways in the Western United States, and it is the most important public recreation-wildlife area in Sacramento. To keep it, we have to protect it.

Most valuable lesson learned (or advice) when it comes to coming to agreement

It is important to work with the other caucuses.

What’s unique about the American River region

The Water Forum has been successful because the river provides part of our water supply and it is the community’s most loved recreational feature; we have to care about both.

Favorite location and/or activity on the lower American River

I like rafting the river in the late fall, especially the six miles below Nimbus Dam.  At that time, the salmon are migrating and there are lots of wildlife.

Secret talent

I spend a lot of time thinking about the big picture and how things connect.

Kerry Schmitz, Water Supply Division Chief, Sacramento County Water Agency

Posted on Wednesday, February 16th, 2022

Water Caucus

Educational background

Bachelor of Civil Engineering, University of Nevada Reno, with an emphasis on Environmental Engineering

Professional experience

I started at the Spink Corporation doing water system modeling for six years. I was hired by Sacramento County to work in the Stormwater Quality program for the next six years. I was promoted to Water Supply Principal Engineer in 2009 and managed the Water Supply Engineering group. I was promoted to Water Supply Division Chief in 2012, and I currently oversee engineering and operations for Sacramento County Water Agency.

Favorite work-related project so far 

The most challenging project has been working to ensure that multiple groundwater basins in Sacramento County successfully comply with the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. My favorite project is the Water Forum.

History with the Water Forum

I started working with the Water Forum in 2009—I specifically asked to be assigned to the Water Forum when I was hired as Water Supply Principal. I didn’t know much about it other than it was important to the region. I’ve enjoyed the relationships and the knowledge gained in the nearly 13 years (wow!!) I’ve been involved in the Water Forum.

Why it is important to be involved in the Water Forum

Sacramento County and Sacramento County Water Agency (SCWA) are important partners in the Water Forum as the largest funder of the program and the broadest interest base to represent. Our region’s success depends on a healthy river and sustainable water supplies, and the County and SCWA need active engagement in the Water Forum to represent regional interests.

Most valuable lesson learned (or advice) when it comes to coming to agreement

Listen to what others are saying and be open to different ways to solve problems.

What’s unique about the American River region

The people in this region recognize that we have an asset in the American River and Parkway, and we have a diverse group of people and entities that are working diligently and collaboratively to protect it.

Favorite location and/or activity on the lower American River

I’m a runner so I enjoy running along the Parkway.

Secret talent

No secret talent, but I can’t get away from water, even in my personal life. I serve as secretary/treasurer for a 19-customer water district—Ophir Prison Estates Mutual Water Company. (There’s no Ophir Prison, FYI.)

Personal motto

It’s more of a counter-motto: The response, “Because we’ve always done it this way,” is never a good answer to a question and always makes me dig deeper into an issue.

Weather whiplash’ brings challenges to the American River this winter

Posted on Monday, February 7th, 2022

By Jessica Law

Winter is historically a time of relative ease for American River salmon and steelhead. The punishing dry months of summer and fall are in the past, and winter storms have returned to cool down water temperatures and provide adequate flow for feeding and spawning. That hasn’t necessarily been the case this winter, which now presents our native fish with a number of new challenges.

In the 2022 water year so far, the river has been hit with a double-whammy of big storms first in October, then in December. January was especially dry, and there is no precipitation in the near-term forecast for February. Meanwhile, in the river, adult steelhead and fall-run Chinook salmon are setting up nests (known as redds), as the spawning and incubation season begins.

All this is a symptom of “weather whiplash,” a rapid shift from drought to wet and back to dry weather that is expected to become more common due to climate change. At the Water Forum, we are carefully watching what this means for water supply and the health of the American River.

In October, the American River watershed received a historic amount of early rainfall, bringing Folsom Reservoir out of extreme drought. Another winter wallop during the holidays resulted in the reservoir encroaching 20,000 acre-feet into the flood space at 566,934 acre-feet for the first time since 2019. This was vitally important for water supply in the region: The reservoir added over 200,000 acre-feet of storage in just six weeks.

The Water Forum has no authority over flood-control releases from Folsom Dam which is regulated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

During winter, Reclamation is required to maintain 400,000 acre-feet of flood reservation in Folsom Reservoir to accommodate major storms. This helps protect downstream communities like Sacramento from flooding. The Water Forum is working closely with these agencies, providing data and expert advice, to anticipate how this influx of early season rain could affect wildlife and habitat.

Rapid fluctuations in water releases are not necessarily a bad thing. Our analysis has shown that releases under 10,000 cubic feet per second are unlikely to harm redds through scouring or damage to newly constructed restoration sites. Also, limiting such flows to a brief period (one to three days), followed by a gradual reduction, will not necessarily harm salmon and steelhead. In fact, it would more closely mimic natural storm runoff conditions, before Folsom Dam was constructed.

But it is a delicate balance. If flood releases are too high and no additional storms arrive, there could be inadequate water supply to serve homes and businesses, as well as to protect cold-water resources to support fisheries in the fall and summer months. And if redds are too high on the river bed due to temporary high flows, they could be left disconnected from the main channel or high and dry when the river drops after flood releases, and juvenile salmon (fry) could be stranded as well because they are not strong swimmers.

But so far so good. In January, Reclamation dropped release rates from 5000 cfs to 2000 cfs over the course of several days in time to avoid the peak of steelhead spawning and protect storage.

Throughout the winter the Water Forum will be supporting Reclamation’s Folsom Reservoir operations by coordinating information from its members, including: (1) inflow forecasts from Placer County Water Agency and SMUD, whose upstream projects regulate the majority of the basin’s flows; (2) diversion forecasts from area water purveyors; (3) water temperature modeling to support temperature management decisions; and (4) fishery conditions in the river to inform tradeoffs between release decisions.

This winter is an important reminder that, thanks to climate change, we are in a completely different flow regime, where decisions must be made quickly and based on real-time information. The Water Forum is watching closely to support our partner agencies and help provide optimal conditions for fish and water supply in these uncertain times.

Image credit: Darin Reintjes, Placer County Water Agency

Change Order

Posted on Friday, January 21st, 2022

Please note the following release changes at Nimbus Dam:

Date                 Time                  From (cfs)               To (cfs)

1/25/22             0001                     3000                       2900

1/25/22             0400                      2900                       2800

1/25/22             0800                      2800                       2700

1/25/22             1200                      2700                       2600

1/25/22             1600                      2600                       2500

Note: Folsom Storage Management

Reflecting on 2021, Welcoming 2022

Posted on Friday, January 14th, 2022

By Jessica Law

When I started as the new Water Forum Executive Director a year ago, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what I was getting into. As life would have it, 2021 was full of surprises. I am incredibly proud of the work we accomplished together in 2021—even with the continued challenges and disruption posed by COVID-19 and the sudden emergence of a drought emergency.

Here are just a few of my favorite highlights from the year:

Strong coordination and open communication with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation: The sudden emergence of a drought emergency in 2021 put tremendous pressure on our federal and state partners working to balance the water supply and environmental needs of the statewide water system. The Water Forum worked closely with Reclamation to reduce impacts to our local water supplies and the health of the Lower American River. One critical measure was a Memorandum of Understanding with Reclamation to preserve cold water in Folsom Reservoir for fall Chinook salmon run. This included setting a storage planning goal of 200,000 acre-feet by end of September. Though challenging to achieve, Reclamation indeed hit the mark.

Cutting-edge science: One of the Water Forum’s essential roles in 2021 was to monitor how drought conditions in the Lower American River impacted the health of steelhead trout and fall-run Chinook salmon (salmonids). Water Forum consultant Cramer Fish Sciences-Genidaqs Laboratory deployed a newer monitoring process, known as an environmental DNA (eDNA) survey, to confirm if salmonids were present in the river. This was augmented with underwater video monitoring to provide visual cues to locate and identify fish. The results provided important insight to support both short-term flow decisions and long-term adaptive management.

Habitat restoration project and partnership with the Effie Yeaw Nature Center: After a year delay due to COVID-19, we implemented an outstanding project at Ancil Hoffman Park in Carmichael, laying 15,800 cubic yards of clean gravel into the flowing Lower American River for spawning and creating a 1,000-foot long alcove for rearing. This project could not have been accomplished without the incredible construction crew at the City of Sacramento Department of Utilities and California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Erica Bishop, the Water Forum’s new (extraordinary!) project manager, provided seamless leadership and expertise. Also, a huge “thank you” to John Hannon, Reclamation, and the entire consultant team, which included cbec eco engineering, GEI, IN Communications and MMS Strategies. Our partnership with Effie Yeaw Nature Center continues to grow and we are looking forward to the opening of a new salmon exhibit in 2022.

Reinvigorating the Water Forum’s Public Caucus: In 2021, we began to build on insight shared during the Water Forum’s 20th Anniversary Climate Symposium, which spotlighted environmental justice and equity, and climate change’s impacts on sensitive communities. Our reinvigorated Public Caucus brings new and diverse voices to the Water Forum 2.0 negotiations to help shape the Water Forum’s vision and work for the next 30 years.

Partnership with the Regional Water Authority (RWA): Throughout 2021, the Water Forum and RWA, which marked its 20th anniversary last year, worked together to advocate for increasing conservation and shifting to groundwater to reduce pressure on the American River environment. This included a joint opinion piece urging conservation by Water Forum members Ralph Propper of ECOS and Tom Gray of the Fair Oaks Water District published in the Sacramento Bee. I am also proud of our joint advocacy work focused on raising the American River region’s profile with state and federal policymakers and leaders.

Supporting the development of Groundwater Sustainability Plans: The Water Forum played an important supporting role in the region’s path toward groundwater sustainability by supporting the Consumnes Groundwater SGMA Working Group and potential merger of the Sacramento Groundwater Authority and Sacramento Central Groundwater Authority. Thanks to these organizations, three Groundwater Sustainability Plans were developed—roadmaps for sustainably managing the American River region’s groundwater basins over the next 20 years.

A solid foundation for Water Forum 2.0 negotiations: In spite of the challenges caused by COVID-19 and a drought emergency, we came together as Water Forum members and partners to identify many of the core issues facing the region’s water supply reliability and the health of the Lower American River. And if we learned one thing last year, it’s that climate change is already here and impacting our work on a day-to-day basis. Much of Phase 1 in 2021 focused on establishing a shared understanding about the issues that will impact the final Agreement such as climate change, fisheries, and the interaction between groundwater and surface water. We also developed and shared caucus interest statements to identify alignment.

In 2022, we will work together to further define and frame how climate change will impact the coequal objectives and the region through plenary meetings, information sessions and tours, and working groups.

In addition, our habitat and science work in the next year will expand significantly. In 2022, the Water Forum will undertake two new habitat projects—at Upper Sailor Bar and Nimbus Basin. Our science program will launch a new, two-year grant-funded effort to monitor fish returning to the river. The project, funded through the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, will utilize genetics research that can connect salmon and steelhead returning to the Lower American River to the Water Forum’s habitat restoration sites on the river.

Water Forum members have a proud history of working in partnership even under the most challenging circumstances. This is an important part of the “Water Forum Way” and foundation for all that we accomplished together in 2021, and path to addressing whatever surprise comes our way in 2022.

Change Order

Posted on Tuesday, January 11th, 2022

The following change order was issued today for releases at Nimbus Dam:

Date                 Time                  From (cfs)               To (cfs)

1/13/21             0001                     5000                       4000

                            0100                      4000                       3000

                            0200                      3000                       2000

                            1500                      2000                       2500

                            1600                      2500                       3000

                            1700                      3000                       3500

                            1800                      3500                       4000

Note:  Reducing flows for the Rotary Screw Trap installation.