Lake Oroville’s dry but flooded Feather River beaches concern residents

People living in Oroville say they are confused as to why their park is flooding during a drought.

Posted: Jul 29, 2021 1:00 PM
Updated: Jul 29, 2021 4:35 PM

OROVILLE, Calif. - People living in Oroville say they are confused as to why their park beach is flooding during a drought.

Kayakers, sand and the sounds of the Feather River are common at Oroville's Riverbend Park.

"It is naturally beautiful," said Beth Dunn, a Butte County resident.

But what Dunn doesn't think is beautiful is the excess water during a drought.

"There's a lot of questions as to why the river has been at flood stage through most of the summer," Dunn explained. "Right now behind me you're looking at about half of the beach, the rest of it is pristine white sand and it's washing away."

And the beach is not the only thing being impacted. Water is also making its way down to nearby walking paths.

"There's a little man-made path that people have worn into the gravel to try to go alongside and avoid," Dunn said.

"We're living with a mud puddle now," said Janine Cody, a regular park-goer.

RELATED: All concrete boat launch ramps are now closed at Lake Oroville

Leaving some to question why, since Lake Oroville feeds into the Feather River.

"Why is the (Oroville) lake dry and the (Feather) river flooded?" asked Dunn.

"I can see the confusion again with the level of the lake compared to the river," said Shawn Rohrbacker.

Rohrbacker is the general manager for Feather River Recreation and Park District, which manages the beach.

He said those river levels are handled by the Department of Water Resources (DWR) but he has an idea of why the river is the way it is.

"I think there's two big factors," Rohrbacker explained "one is water users downstream, farmers the whole state water project. That and the salmon spawning."

And when it comes to the beach eroding Rohrbacker says the public should not worry.

"It will erode some of the sand but otherwise it mostly stays in place. We do maintain it to replace some of it," Rohrbacker explained.

An immediate answer - but in the future park-goers want transparency as to what happens in their local waterways.

"So if there is a question we know who to call," Dunn said.

Rohrbacker said his department sets aside about $5,000 for maintenance of the beach and that the beach was designed to stay in place with these low rises in the river.

Molly White, Manager, Water Operations, State Water Project with the DWR released the following statement to Action News Now:

Water released from Lake Oroville is diverted at the Thermalito Diversion Dam near the Feather River Fish Hatchery to go either to the Thermalito Forebay and Afterbay or to the Low Flow Channel through Oroville and by Riverbend Park. The Low Flow Channel of the Feather River is higher than usual for fisheries purposes. Very little water is being released to the river out of the Thermalito Afterbay Outlet approximately 5 miles downstream from the Thermalito Diversion Dam.

Grebes, a species of waterbird, is currently nesting on the Afterbay, requiring the Afterbay reservoir level to be kept around 134.5 feet elevation to avoid disrupting their floating nests.

Therefore, current water releases to the Feather River to support local agriculture, in-stream requirements to benefit fish in the Feather River, and export to the Delta to prevent salinity intrusion must flow through the Low Flow Channel. DWR is taking actions to conserve as much water as possible within Oroville reservoir to ensure minimal amounts of cold water is available for when it is needed for the fall salmon run and to ensure that a minimal amount of water supply is available for critical water uses in case drought conditions continue into 2022. Releases are assessed on a daily basis.

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