Editor, Manteca Bulletin,
In a March 19, 1997 Modesto Bee article, Allen Short (Manager of Modesto Irrigation District-MID) which oversees lake Don Pedro) explained that the Don Pedro Dam (with a maximum capacity of about 2 million acre feet of water) worked flawlessly during the flood.
He went on to explain that the storm water had simply exceeded Don Pedro’s maximum capacity. As a result, massive flooding occurred throughout Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties in late 1996 and early 1997. He failed to mention the fact that he and TID (Turlock Irrigation District) manager, Larry Weiss sat on their hands for weeks after being warned by their staff that a flood disaster was approaching. Instead of taking decisive action, they allowed Don Pedro to continue filling and then blamed the Corps of Engineers when the dam failed to control the water. The Corps takes control of the dam once it nears flood level. It got there because of inaction by TID and MID. In fact, once the Corps took control of the dam they did what Short and Weiss should have done months earlier; the Corps released as much water as they could. But the predicted warm tropical storm hit, melting the snow pack and Don Pedro was overwhelmed. Just like Michael Brown (head of FEMA during the New Orleans Disaster), Mr. Short and Mr. Weiss dawdled in their response to a critical situation. Massive flooding and loss of property in our two counties was the result.
This year we are in very similar circumstances. We have a very heavy snowpack in the Sierra. Heavy rains and snow are predicted for the remainder of February and into March. Don Pedro water level is at almost 88% (20,000 acre feet less than in December 1996) and at its present rate will hit the point at which the Corps takes control at just about the time warm weather gets here and the snow melt starts. If Mr. Short and Mr. Weiss do not increase water releases soon at Don Pedro, we will have a repeat of the 1997 floods.
Currently, the other 2 major water storage systems affecting Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties are New Melones with a capacity of 2.5 million AF. It is at 50%. The other system is McClure with a capacity of 1 Million AF. McClure is at 44%. How is it that their managers have the foresight to see the danger coming this spring, yet the managers of MID and TID do not? While the Merced and the Stanislaus will remain under control during the flood season, the Tuolumne is very likely to flood any community in its path.
Jan. 31, 2010