News & Operations Blog

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.

Surviving the Summer: Monitoring conditions for salmonids on the Lower American River

Posted on Tuesday, December 7th, 2021

By Jessica Law

The Water Forum and its members maintained a strong focus on water operations and temperature management as we moved through the drought this year. In weekly cross-caucus meetings we poured over the latest projections, debated the merits of actions, and learned how to read buzz graphs and temperature modeling results. One long-standing member of the Water Forum, Ron Stork, Friends of the River, said that we might as well be getting college credit for a water operations and hydrology course.

But that’s just one half of the story. Water Forum members are also focused on how the low flows, high water temperatures, and extreme heat have impacted the health of steelhead trout and fall-run Chinook salmon (salmonids) this year. While Reclamation worked hard to maintain viable flow rates and temperatures during the long hot summer, well, we anticipated that it was going to be a hard year for fish to survive, much less reproduce and thrive.

But how bad were the conditions for juvenile steelhead that stayed in the river over the summer? Were there any cool spots for them to hide? Did adult Chinook return in early fall? For any of the fish that were present, were conditions tolerable?

Here’s what we learned …

Traditional snorkel surveys and seining surveys did not yield sufficient information about conditions to reach conclusions about the presence of salmonids. California Department of Fish and Wildlife was restricted in the amount and types of surveys because of the extreme conditions, and hours spent in the river did not result in significant information.

Cramer Fish Sciences-Genidaqs Laboratory, a Water Forum consultant, deployed a newer monitoring process, known as an environmental DNA (eDNA) survey, to confirm if salmonids were present in the river.  By collecting and filtering water samples Genidaqs can detect and analyze eDNA for specific fish species. The eDNA sampling was conducted at numerous locations throughout the river and was augmented with underwater video monitoring to provide visual cues to locate and identify fish.

These initial results indicate that the early arriving Chinook are finding poor water quality and temperature conditions when returning to the American River. And in these same conditions, steelhead are hard to find. The figure below shows that Cramer Fish Sciences-Genidaqs found relatively higher concentrations of Chinook eDNA compared to steelhead (O. mykiss) eDNA. This was also consistent with video documentation and field observations, and typical Chinook immigration and spawning behavior in the LAR.

There were at least two small areas of temperature refuge at the mouths of Cordova and Buffalo creeks where the streams created better water quality and water that was 1-2°C cooler than ambient river conditions immediately upstream this summer. The Water Forum is actively pursuing funding to study how these creek confluences could provide refuge during future drought periods and under climate change.

These eDNA data are intended to complement ongoing monitoring and modeling efforts on the LAR to support both short-term flow decisions and long-term adaptive management. And while this is the first time the Water Forum has utilized an eDNA survey, it will likely not be the last time. In future years these surveys, when done at regular intervals over longer periods of time, could help us understand more about relative abundance and use of habitat.

We will have additional data to share early next year as populations continue to be monitored by CDFW, including pre-spawn mortality estimates for Chinook and spawning estimates based on redd (salmon nest) counts and carcass surveys. And as we work with State and Federal agencies to synthesize results from these monitoring actions, the result will be making use of poor conditions this year to adjust and improve management actions should dry conditions persist next year and in the future.

Learn more about conditions for fish this year here.

Read more about the details of the eDNA study here.

Change Order

Posted on Tuesday, October 26th, 2021
The following change order for releases at Nimbus Dam was issued yesterday:

Date                 Time                  From (cfs)               To (cfs)

10/25/21          1200                      2500                      2000

10/25/21          1600                      2000                      1500

10/25/21          2000                      1500                      1000

10/26/21          0001                      1000                       550

Note: Lake Natoma Reservoir Management

Change Order

Posted on Monday, October 25th, 2021
High side flows into Lake Natoma on 10/23 and 10/24 resulted Lake Natoma to go into Reservoir Management mode. These are the actions that were taken to keep Lake Natoma manageable:

Date                 Time                  From (cfs)               To (cfs)

10/24/21          1300                      550                         900

10/25/21          0100                      900                         2000

10/25/21          0330                      2000                       2500

Note: Lake Natoma Reservoir Management

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.