North State Congressman critical of Army Corps of Engineers' reservoir water release

Apr 14, 2016 12:19 AM by Cecile Juliette

The North State’s two largest reservoirs continue to rise, despite recent releases. On March 24, 2016, at 10:00am, for the first time in 5 years, the California Department of Water Resources opened the spillway at the Lake Oroville Dam. By the time engineers closed the dam on April 4, 11 days later, 69,000 acre feet had flowed down the spillway and into the Feather River.

The Bureau of Reclamation manages the mighty Shasta Lake. Engineers released water from the power plant from March 18 to March 25. According to a spokesperson, 240,000 acre feet were released during the 8 day period.

Republican Congressman Doug LaMalfa says the lakes should be higher than they are this late into the season. “Every drop that's going out is not being stored,” says LaMalfa while watching a steady, light flow of water roll down the Lake Oroville Spillway. “We had to draw on this for four years. Agriculture took big hits.”

The Richvale rice farmer is critical of recent releases at the North States two massive reservoirs, orchestrated by the Army Corps of Engineers. “We get the flood control aspect, totally understand that, he says. Flood control is legislated. It’s a series of laws that govern engineers, telling them how high the reservoirs can be allowed to rise at certain times of year. The goal is to allow for enough storage space in case a series of big storms roll through in quick succession. “Are they being too cautious?,” says LaMalfa, “I think they could have been at 60 or 40 percent of what they're releasing, and let the lake come up.”

Both reservoirs are at 91% of capacity. Lamalfa says, this late in the season, that's not enough. “I don't know where the water is going to come from to fill that last big, wide part. “Then we've left water on the table on the heels of a drought. Until this lake (Lake Oroville) hits 900 feet, which is the full elevation, and until Shasta hits 1,067(feet), I'm not going to be completely happy, because that means mismanagement of water supply.”

Which leads us to another other big question. What is taking so long to get the proposed Sites Reservoir built? That's the Colusa County reservoir that could store more than 1,800,000 acre feet of water. Last year, voters passed a state bond to provide up to $2.7 billion dollars for the reservoir. Lamalfa, a member of the Natural Resources Committee, says it's time to break ground. “The voters passed it, the money is there,” he says. “I have a bill called HR1060 to say ‘quit talking about it, finish the study, sign your name on the bottom line and authorize it’ so we'll be eligible to receive that money that's going to start being allocated this December for water storage."

The Congressman says he's researching legislation that would allow the Army Corps more flexibility on how much water Lake Oroville and Shasta Lake can hold.


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