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Local Sentiments Low Over Proposed New Melones Levels

Sonora, CA — While statewide media outlets report that recent rains and the beginning of the spring snow melt are causing Lake Tahoe to “fill and spill” into the Truckee River, some California reservoirs, notably New Melones in the Sierra Nevada, continue to struggle.

The State Department of Water Resources stresses that exceptional drought conditions continue to prevail in many parts of the state, requiring keen conservation efforts and care with water supplies.

As far as water storage goes, the latest snapshot of all the reservoir levels indicates that two of the northernmost lakes, Shasta and Oroville, have reached an impressive 91 percent of capacity; respectively at 109 percent and 116 percent above their historical averages for this time of year.

New Melones Levels Lowest In The State 

Hit the hardest among the state’s 12 largest reservoirs is New Melones, now at 26 percent of its capacity and just 42 percent of its historical seasonal average, despite the respite rains and additions to the Sierra snowpack. Its current level is even more meager than the state’s two southernmost reservoirs, Lake Perris and Castaic Lake, which are currently at 36 percent and 44 percent of their respective capacities; 43 percent and 49 percent of their historical averages. (To view an April 12 snapshot of water levels at all of the state’s major monitored reservoirs, click into the upper-left image box.)

Currently the State Water Board is reviewing a plan (previously reported here) that was presented last week in Sacramento by the Bureau of Reclamation at a public session held to gather public input. Board officials indicate that a decision to accept it in its entirety, with conditions, or not all, is due before the end of the month.

As reported here, several public officials, representing water, government and tourism entities in Calaveras and Tuolumne counties showed up to speak about numerous negative local impacts to the economy, recreation and tourism industry, as well as to Butte Fire-related recovery and wildfire safety that were not considered by the agencies involved in putting together the plan. Their position is that the plan does not allow New Melones to regain enough water to make a local difference.

Tri-Dam Touts ‘Balanced’ Plan

Tri-Dam Project partners Oakdale Irrigation District (OID) and South San Joaquin Irrigation District (SSJID), who hold senior water rights to the Stanislaus River at New Melones, collaborated with Reclamation, which operates New Melones, to craft the operations plan. The Tri-Dam partner districts touted the plan yesterday in a press release it issued through their public relations firm.

Quoted in the release, OID General Manager called the proposal, which is currently being reviewed by the Water Board, “balanced.” He further stated, “The districts are making water available to assist with pulse flow operations that are important to federal and state regulators. At the same time, ag interests on the West Side are going to be able pick up and benefit from that water.” In addition to benefiting “fish and farms,” SSJID General Manager Peter Rietkerk noted that the plan would also allow New Melones to make some storage gains for the first time in four years. He added, “This not only preserves water supply for next year, but also provides water temperature benefits in the Stanislaus River for this summer and fall.”

Clarke Broadcasting asked Calaveras County Water District (CCWD) Director Dennis Mills and Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors Chair Karl Rodefer, both who attended last week’s Water Board session on the proposed New Melones plan, for their comments on the press release. Both maintain that it puts a positive spin on an operations proposal for New Melones, reflecting the interests of those who put it together; lacking input from some stakeholders who live and work in the surrounding community.