[env-trinity] Fresno Bee 5/3/10
bwl3 at comcast.net
Mon May 3 10:20:56 PDT 2010
Officials scrambling to lower Millerton Lake
By Mark Grossi
Federal officials are selling billions of gallons of water to farmers as a
way to lower Millerton Lake and make room for a rush of snowmelt this month.
Water releases from Friant Dam for the San Joaquin River restoration program
also are helping to lower the reservoir, though they are not intended to be
used that way, federal officials said.
In the last week, some Millerton fishing enthusiasts and others noticed the
dropping lake level and worried that restoration releases were to blame. But
that's not the case, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, owner and
operator of Friant Dam.
About 70 percent of the water being removed from Millerton right now is
going to farmers, and that percentage is likely to increase.
Apart from the restoration, bureau officials say they must lower the lake to
prepare for the thawing of the snowpack, which is 139 percent of average for
this time of year.
If the weather warms up quickly or a warm storm drops a lot of rain on the
snowpack, the lake could fill within days and force a big release of water
down the river, bureau spokesman Pete Lucero said.
Such a surge could cause millions of dollars in damage to crops and land
near the river, and valuable irrigation water would be lost for growers.
The concern has grown as the biggest snowpack since 2006 expanded during a
string of cold April storms. If it can be controlled, the runoff from the
added snowpack could be a boon to east San Joaquin Valley farmers.
They could get more than 400,000 acre-feet of water in flood-prevention
releases this spring. An acre-foot of water is about 326,000 gallons, a 12-
to 18-month supply of water for an average Valley family.
Farmers also will get a chance to buy 30,000 acre-feet of water to
compensate for water they lost last fall when the river restoration flows
began. The lost water is made available during wet years, according to the
With the extra water, farmers are irrigating some crops and filling massive
ponds that seep water into the ground for their wells, said Ron Jacobsma,
general manager of the Friant Water Users Authority, which represents 15,000
"We have an extensive groundwater recharge program," he said.
"We'll be taking as much water as we can and hoping Millerton won't spill
over the next month."
For decades, water officials have been balancing the snow runoff and the
limited room in Millerton. Even in a dry year, such as 2009, officials need
to swiftly step up deliveries to prevent the lake from filling too high.
Millerton is a small reservoir -- half the size of Pine Flat Reservoir on
the Kings River, which has a similar amount of annual snow runoff. In
Northern California, Shasta Reservoir, the largest man-made lake in the
state, is nine times larger than Millerton.
Millerton, with a capacity of 520,500 acre-feet, was built in the 1940s on a
site that would not support a larger reservoir. Federal officials understood
the limitations, but used the site because the land was donated and the
reservoir was sorely needed at the time.
At the moment, Pine Flat on the Kings has nearly twice the amount of water
as Millerton, but it has not filled high enough to trigger flood-prevention
measures. Meanwhile, Friant water officials are scrambling.
"It's difficult, but we will make the most of a wet season like this,"
Byron Leydecker, JcT
Chair, Friends of Trinity River
PO Box 2327
Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327
415 383 4810 land/fax (call first to fax)
415 519 4810 mobile
<mailto:bwl3 at comcast.net> bwl3 at comcast.net
<mailto:bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org> bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org
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