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Do as I say, not as I do

Brown says save water, while state squanders it

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Do as I say, not as I do

If you thought Stanislaus River flows through Ripon have increased dramatically in the past month it’s not your imagination. Heavier releases from the disappearing New Melones Reservoir are being d...

HIME ROMERO/The Bulletin


POSTED April 3, 2015 1:45 a.m.

While Gov. Jerry Brown was mandating water flowing from spigots be reduced  25 percent due to California’s severe drought the bureaucracy he oversees was continuing its effort to drain New Melones Reservoir of an extra 15,000 acre feet of water

The dire picture the governor painted standing on a snowless meadow at Echo Summit this week contrasted some 60 miles northeast of New Melones Reservoir sharply with how his water agencies were managing what precious storage was remaining on the Stanislaus River watershed.

“The flows going down the Stanislaus River are incredible,” noted South San Joaquin Irrigation District General Manager Jeff Shields. “You can’t tell we’re in a drought.”

Photos taken along the river Sunday by Bulletin photographer Hime Romero reflected flows that are much heavier than when he shot photos in mid-February.

That’s because the state Department of Water Resources and the Bureau of Reclamation decided to release 15,000 acre feet beyond the benchmark 200 cubic feet per second flow for fish in the biological opinion established by the National Fisheries Service.

Flows out of New Melones have been as much as 13 times higher than the biological opinion requires during the past 30 days. Some of that has to do with the start of irrigation releases but the bulk of the excess by far is tied to a bureaucratic decision in Sacramento to use New Melones water to address salinity issues in the San Joaquin River at Vernalis to make up for extreme shortfalls of flows from the Merced and Tuolumne rivers.

The inflow to New Melones was 359 cubic feet per second on March 4 while the outflow was 472 cfs. There were no irrigation releases at that time. By March 27 the flows out of New Melones reached 2,700 cfs while the inflow had dwindled down to 267 cfs. As of April 1, the outflow has started to ramp down dropping to 1,495 cfs while inflow continues to plunge reaching 205 cfs.

The 2.4 million acre foot capacity reservoir on Tuesday had almost 56,000 acre feet of less water after 30 days of ramped up outflow. It  has dropped to 550,853 acre feet.

Current projections show the reservoir ceasing to operate sometime in August when it falls to dead pool status leaving 80,000 acre feet of water that is below the dam’s outlets. That essentially will dry up the Stanislaus River. 

Water managers in the valley have argued the releases to combat salinity will be for not as the water year drags on as there will be inadequate water in the San Joaquin River watershed. Meanwhile, the 15,000 acre feet of water being sacrificed from the Stanislaus watershed will be unavailable to keep the Stanislaus River healthy.

Irrigation district managers including Shields have noted the state didn’t reduce the flow through gates heading into the California Aqueduct to make sure none of that 15,000 acre feet flowed south instead of through the Delta to help counter state issues there.

Meanwhile, the state on Thursday was using its electronic message signs along freeways to advise people that California is in a severe drought and to limit outdoor watering.

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