DAILY DIGEST, weekend edition: Lake Oroville flows over emergency spillway, repairs could top $200M; Is CA overdue for biblical catastrophic flooding?; North Delta island levee lowered in hopes of avoiding downstream damage; and more …

In California water news this weekend, Lake Oroville flows over its emergency spillway for the first time, repairs could top $200 million and more dam news; Is California overdue for biblical catastrophic flooding?; 215 billion gallons has poured into Shasta Lake since February 1; North Delta island levee lowered in hopes of avoiding downstream damage; Has California lost billions of gallons in uncollected rain water?; Sinking land causes California water chokepoint; Is the drought over yet? That might not be the right question to ask; Governor Brown seeks disaster declaration for California flooding; California rivers are so swollen with runoff that the impact is easily seen in these before and after satellite images; As sea levels rise, vital salt marshes are disappearing; and more …

In dam news this morning …

Lake Oroville solution includes emergency spillway down hillside:  “An emergency spillway at Lake Oroville was put into play Saturday, marking the first time of use since the dam was completed in 1968.  There’s no lever to press. The water merely flows over the side of the embankment once the lake reaches more than 901 feet.  That happened at about 8 a.m. Saturday when approximately 668 cubic feet per second of water started flowing down the hillside, headed toward the Feather River. ... ” Read more from the Chico Enterprise-Record here:  Lake Oroville solution includes emergency spillway down hillside

Lake Oroville flows over its emergency spillway for the first time in the history of the nation’s tallest dam:  “Water started flowing over an emergency spillway at the nation’s tallest dam, on Lake Oroville, for the first time Saturday after erosion damaged the Northern California dam’s main spillway.  Officials hoped to avoid using Oroville Dam’s emergency spillway, fearing it could cause trees to fall and leave debris cascading into water that rushes through the Feather River, into the Sacramento River and on to the San Francisco Bay.   Crews prepared for several days, clearing trees and brush.  Water began running over the emergency spillway around 8 a.m., according to California’s Department of Water Resources. … ”  Read more and view lots of pictures from the AP via the Daily Mail here:  Lake Oroville flows over its emergency spillway for the first time in the history of the nation’s tallest dam

As emergency spillway flows, state says repairs to crippled Oroville Dam could top $200 million:  “For the first time since Oroville Dam was completed in 1968, water from its storm-swollen reservoir overtopped the emergency spillway Saturday, sending sheets of water down a forested hillside and adding to the murk and debris churning in the Feather River below.  State officials said they did not expect the flows to cause flooding in Oroville or other communities downstream, but the emergency releases underscored the perilous situation confronting the operators of California’s second-largest reservoir for the rest of this extraordinarily rainy winter.  … ”  Read more from the Sacramento Bee here:  As emergency spillway flows, state says repairs to crippled Oroville Dam could top $200 million

Emergency spillway used at Oroville Dam for the first time:  “Water began roaring into an emergency spillway at California’s state’s tallest dam for the first time ever Saturday to protect the regular Oroville Dam spillway severely damaged during heavy storms.  The state Department of Water Resources said mid-day Saturday that it expects to pour water into the backup, earthen spillway for 40 to 56 hours until water levels start receding in Lake Oroville in Butte County. Officials said they are confident no flooding will result downstream on the Feather River for at least the next week, including during a modest storm expected Thursday. After that, however, they said they cannot guarantee that no flooding will occur if another “atmospheric river” dumps a heavy downpour on a soggy Northern California. ... ”  Read more from the East Bay Times here:  Emergency spillway used at Oroville Dam for the first time

Thanks to storm runoff, there’s a lot of water over California’s second largest dam:  “At 8 a.m. Saturday, a sheet of water began spilling from the brim of California’s second-largest reservoir and washing down a partly cleared hill to the Feather River.  It was the first time in the 48-year history of Lake Oroville that the reservoir was so full that it triggered uncontrolled releases down an emergency spillway. Bloated with storm runoff, the reservoir had gone from 80% full to overflowing in less than a week when managers were forced to reduce releases on Oroville’s heavily damaged concrete spillway.  The emergency spillway was doing what it was supposed to do: letting water out of the huge lake so it wouldn’t top the dam. … ”  Read more from the LA Times here:  Thanks to storm runoff, there’s a lot of water over California’s second largest dam

Amazing engineering feat saves millions of fish at Feather River fish hatchery:  “It’s not that often that you can add saving and protecting 9 million fish to your list of lifetime achievements. For the crew of more than 66 that pitched in at the Feather River Fish Hatchery, the hope is that this will never need to be done again.  Earlier this week, plans were being made to evacuate the fish hatchery along the river. At that time, high water was expected. Later, the problem turned to water so dirty it could harm the young and vulnerable fish. … ”  Read more from the Chico Enterprise Record here:  Amazing engineering feat saves millions of fish at Feather River fish hatchery

In other water news this weekend …

Is California overdue for biblical catastrophic flooding?  History says it could be:  “Californians are always talking about the coming Big One, but what if the big one is a flood, not an earthquake?  With this recent cavalcade of rainstorms, there’s been renewed interest in a 2011 USGS study on the so-called “ARkStorm.” In it, the USGS lays out a case for a hypothetical “megastorm,” one that could cause up to $725 billion in damage and impact a quarter of California’s homes. The ARkStorm would bring with it catastrophic rains, hurricane-force winds and hundreds of landslides. Central Valley flooding alone is projected to span 300 miles.  If that sounds far-fetched, there’s historic precedent … ”  Read more from SF Gate here:  Is California overdue for biblical catastrophic flooding?  History says it could be

215 billion gallons has poured into Shasta Lake since February 1:  “As a series of moisture-packed storms drench Northern California this year, Lake Shasta is seeing an impressive turnaround from near record lows.  California’s largest reservoir has received some 215 billion gallons of water since Feb. 1 and as a result the lake level rose 25 feet since the start of the month, as of Friday. To put that in perspective, the San Francisco Public Utility Commission says the entire Hetch Hetchy Reservoir “can store up to 117 billion gallons of drinking water.”  Over 24 hours this week alone (Feb. 8 to 9), Shasta’s water level shot up eight feet. … ”  Read more from SF Gate here:  215 billion gallons has poured into Shasta Lake since February 1

North Delta island levee lowered in hopes of avoiding downstream damage:  “Work crews took emergency action Saturday to lower a portion of the ring levee surrounding the McCormick-Williamson Tract in an attempt to avoid a catastrophic “flood pulse” that last occurred in the floods of 1997.  The tract is a North Delta island just downstream of the confluence of the Cosumnes and Mokelumne rivers, just northeast of the Delta Cross Channel. The 1,600-acre island is owned by The Nature Conservancy in California. It’s adjacent to Staten Island.  Ryan Luster, Delta project director for the TNC, said Saturday that the TNC learned from experts on Friday that water flows along the tract would be strong enough to cause a levee breach similar to the one that occurred in the rainstorms of 1997. … ”  Read more from the Sacramento Bee here:  North Delta island levee lowered in hopes of avoiding downstream damage

Verify: Has California lost billions of gallons in uncollected rain water? Despite retaining drought measures, the wet season has proved to be a boon for Northern California.  But is the state still missing out on storing rainwater?  State Sen. Ted Gaines, R-El Dorado Hills, thinks so:  “[Tweet] Sadly we’ve already lots billions of gallons because there’s no storage in place.  Sites needs to move along much faster.”  We decided to verify Gaines’ tweet. So, has the state failed to capture rainwater because of a lack of storage? … ”  Read more from ABC 10 here:  Verify: Has California lost billions of gallons in uncollected rain water? 

Sinking land causes California water chokepoint:  “Unchecked groundwater use is colliding with seesawing weather patterns to produce a new act in California’s long-running tragedy of the commons.  According to NASA and European Space Agency data released on February 8, parts of the California aqueduct on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, near Avenal, sank more than two feet between 2013 and 2016 as farmers pumped records amounts of groundwater during the state’s historic drought.  The aqueduct is the 444-mile-long main artery in the state’s north-south water canal system, which was built in the 1960s. The system delivers water from reservoirs in the Sierra Nevada mountain range to 25 million urban residents and nearly one million acres of irrigated farmland in southern California. ... ”  Read more from the Circle of Blue here:  Sinking land causes California water chokepoint

State: Ground sinking near Corcoran, Avenal:  “The ground is sinking near Avenal and Corcoran, and the drop is damaging the California Aqueduct, according to a report released this week from the California Department of Water Resources.  The report identified agricultural groundwater pumping alongside the Aqueduct in a section near Avenal as the cause of a buckle in the Aqueduct’s cement-lined channel.  The report says the buckle is causing a 20 percent loss in the Aqueduct’s capacity to carry water. … ”  Read more from the Hanford Sentinel here:  State: Ground sinking near Corcoran, Avenal

Is the drought over yet? That might not be the right question to ask:  “In another round of mixed messages during an exceptionally wet winter, California’s water board is extending emergency drought regulations until May, the anniversary of its action taking teeth out of conservation enforcement.  With the state’s permission, during the past year most urban and suburban water districts, including those in the cities of Los Angeles and Long Beach, have avoided having to meet mandated conservation goals by “self-certifying” that they have sufficient reserves to last three years. … ”  Read more from NBC LA here:  Is the drought over yet? That might not be the right question to ask

Governor Brown seeks disaster declaration for California flooding:  “California Gov. Jerry Brown asked President Trump on Friday to declare a major disaster in the state because of damage from a month of storms as more rain hit the south.  Brown’s letter said a powerful series of January storms brought “relentless” rain and high winds that caused flooding, mudslides, evacuations, erosion, power outages and at least eight deaths. Northern California was hardest hit.  Brown said the storm system was so severe and widespread that state and local governments need federal assistance to continue dealing with the problems it created. … ” Read more from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat here:  Governor Brown seeks disaster declaration for California flooding

California rivers are so swollen with runoff that the impact is easily seen in these before and after satellite images:  “This animation of satellite images shows in dramatic fashion just how far California has come following one of its most devastating droughts on record.  To get the full effect, make sure to click on the animated GIF.  On Feb. 9, 2016, California was still in the grips of the drought. At that time, the waterways of the Sacramento River Delta were barely visible from space, as seen in the first image of the animation, acquired by NASA’s Aqua satellite. The second image, acquired today by Terra, Aqua’s twin, shows those waterways swollen and laden with brown sediment. … ”  Read more from Discover Magazine here:  California rivers are so swollen with runoff that the impact is easily seen in these before and after satellite images

As sea levels rise, vital salt marshes are disappearing:  “The Ridgway’s rail is a rare bird that relies on the salt marshes south of Los Angeles to survive. And that’s why its future is in doubt — the salt marsh is disappearing under rising seas.  Scientists working with the federal government said the rail’s plight at Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge is indicative of what’s happening to salt marshes around the country.  Their assessment of eight of the country’s coastal salt marshes found that half will be gone in 350 years if they don’t regain some lost ground. The other four also are backsliding, and coastal communities and wildlife will suffer as the marshes continue to deteriorate. … ”  Read more from the Fresno Bee here:  As sea levels rise, vital salt marshes are disappearing

In commentary this weekend …

Assemblyman Gray’s bill would make the State Water Board accountable to the public:  Adam Gray writes, “As California and the San Joaquin Valley struggle to meet our water needs, the recent rains promise to bring some relief. Unfortunately, it is not enough to offset the multi-year drought, new groundwater regulations and the proposed permanent water take from our reservoirs by the State Water Resources Control Board. In the board’s own words, its actions will create a permanent “regulatory drought.”  Recently, 22 state legislators, representing both parties and the Central Valley, expressed their strong support for the federal decision to allow increased pumping in the Delta to take advantage of the surging storm runoff. This was a sensible, timely and appropriate decision.  Unfortunately, this approach to implementing water regulations is more the exception than the rule. … ”  Read more from the Merced Sun-Star here:  Assemblyman Gray’s bill would make the State Water Board accountable to the public

Twin tunnels prevent general water solutions, say Karen Mitchoff and Diane Burgis:  They write, “This winter and spring may forever be known – like many fishermen would say – as “the one that got away.”  Over the past two months, California has experienced a series of severe storms, which caused numerous cities and counties to declare states of emergency. Rather than having the necessary storage capacity in place to collect and store storm water runoff for future use, massive amounts of rainwater from our bountifully wet winter flowed down swollen creeks and rivers, through the Delta and out the San Francisco Bay to the ocean. It’s water that we desperately need during drought conditions like those we’ve experienced for much of the last decade. … ”  Read more from the East Bay Times here:  Twin tunnels prevent general water solutions

Atmospheric rivers increase water supply in California – but only to a point, says Jeff Mount:  He writes, “December and January were very wet months in California, together landing in the top five of wettest two-month periods on record in Northern California. The abundant precipitation has restored soil moisture, refilled reservoirs and caused minor flooding. This is a big — and welcome — change from the past five years of record drought. Much of the improvement can be attributed to the return of atmospheric rivers flowing in from the Pacific: unique storms that are both a blessing and challenge for California water managers.  … ”  Read more from Earth here:  Atmospheric rivers increase water supply in California – but only to a point

In regional news and commentary this weekend …

Shasta dam release may cause flooding through the weekend:  “Areas of Red Bluff River Park were blocked off Friday as water levels were expected to rise once again over the weekend causing possible flooding throughout the park, similar to Monday’s floods, and other areas within Tehama County due to the increased releases below Keswick Dam in Shasta County.  The Sacramento River water levels have decreased since Monday, but that may change as the Bureau of Reclamation began incrementally increasing releases from the dam late Thursday The bureau is expected to release 70,000 cubic feet per second by Sunday. ... ”  Read more from the Red Bluff Daily News here:  Shasta dam release may cause flooding through the weekend

Donner Lake homeowners sue State Lands Commission:  “Is this land really your land, or is it my land? Is it both of ours? What are the limitations and what does that mean for real estate?  A local group of homeowners may learn the answer to that question soon.  Save Our Shores Donner Lake, a nonprofit association made up of Donner Lake lakefront property owners, recently filed a lawsuit in Nevada County Superior Court against the California State Lands Commission over ownership of the land on which the lake’s private docks are built. … ”  Read from the Sierra Sun here:  Donner Lake homeowners sue State Lands Commission

Anderson Dam in Morgan Hill over capacity; Santa Clara Valley Water District fears earthquake:  “The Anderson Reservoir, the largest in Santa Clara County, is too full, per government regulators, so the water district is unleashing much of storm water flowing into the reservoir, as officials said it is too unsafe to collect it. Otherwise, they fear, if a major earthquake were to strike while the water level is so high, there is a chance the dam could fail.  A new $400 million seismic retrofit of the reservoir is at least three years away. … ”  Read more from NBC Bay Area here:  Anderson Dam in Morgan Hill over capacity; Santa Clara Valley Water District fears earthquake

Fresno: No rain coming, but threat of dam overfill puts communities on notice:  “After the recent heavy rains and showers, much of the central San Joaquin Valley and foothill areas will see about five days without rain, with new concerns focused on water releases from overfilled dams.  A flood warning went out Saturday morning for areas along the San Joaquin River, where the National Weather Service office in Hanford said water released from Friant Dam could cause flooding downriver.  It was unclear when water would be released from Friant Dam, but the weather service reported that Friant Dam had increased the water release for Saturday morning to between 7,000 and 8,000 cubic feet per second. … ”  Read more from the Fresno Bee here:  Fresno: No rain coming, but threat of dam overfill puts communities on notice

Heavy rains pound San Joaquin Valley region, flooding fields and foothills:  “A tropical Pacific storm brought heavy rains to portions of Fresno and Madera counties Friday and pounded Mariposa County hard enough to flood roadways, unleash mud and rocks and even wash away some roads.  The National Weather Service kept a flood watch in place through Friday afternoon for portions of Fresno, Madera, Mariposa and Merced counties.  Los Banos-area farmer Joe Del Bosque tweeted several videos showing floodwaters spilling out of orchards and crossing roadways on the west side. And the weather service warned shortly after 3 p.m. that radar was tracking heavy downpours extending from Chowchilla to near Mendota. ... ”  Read more from the Fresno Bee here:  Heavy rains pound San Joaquin Valley region, flooding fields and foothills

Owens Valley: Technical group blasted on new West Bishop wells:  “Some Technical Group meetings are short and dry; Thursday morning’s wasn’t either.  All the big guns stepped up in strong opposition to two new wells in Bishop, B-2 near the Gun Club and B-5 in West Bishop, south of Schober Lane. The agenda item was “consideration of a pre-construction evaluation report” on the two wells, a formal acknowledgement by both entities, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and Inyo County, that the joint-report was completed. But for those in attendance, it was a step in the wrong direction, at least until pumping impacts in the valley are fully mitigated and current environmental studies are done. … ”  Read more from the Sierra Wave here:  Owens Valley: Technical group blasted on new West Bishop wells

Santa Barbara: Cachuma Lake catching up after years of drought:  “Santa Barbara County’s long-suffering Cachuma Lake is nowhere close to being full after years of drought, but this winter’s storms are slowly raising the water level and one of its boat ramps may finally reopen.  Runoff has raised the level of the reservoir about 17 feet since the start of the year and another 10 feet would allow one boat launch ramp to open for the first time since 2015. That could happen within the next two weeks. … ”   Read more from NBC LA here:  Santa Barbara: Cachuma Lake catching up after years of drought

Diversifying Ventura’s water portfolio:  Erik Nasarenko and Shana Epstein write, “In 10 years, Ventura’s water supply could be substantially different than it is today. The goal is to make Ventura less susceptible to the boon years of high rainfall and the inevitable periods of drought and water shortages, and to continue to produce a safe and reliable water product at a cost-effective price for residents to drink.  Ventura has long looked to Mother Nature for water, relying exclusively on local precipitation to stock Lake Casitas, keep the Ventura River flowing and recharge local groundwater basins. But as this six-year drought and other droughts illustrate, our dependence is problematic because it rests squarely with what Ventura cannot control: the weather. … ”  Read more from the Ventura County Star here:  Diversifying Ventura’s water portfolio

Otay Water District ambitious plan to bring in desalinated water from Mexico:  “Even as California residents debate whether we are free from the drought, local water agencies are looking for ways to increase their water supply.  The Otay Water District is working on a project that would involve desalinated water from a new plant being built in Rosarito, Mexico.  The district wants to build a 3.5 mile pipeline from the U.S-Mexico border to its 36.7 million gallon reservoir in Otay Mesa. The pipeline would transport some of that desalinated water to customers in Spring Valley, La Presa, Rancho San Diego, Jamul and eastern Chula Vista. … ” Read more from NBC San Diego here:  Otay Water District ambitious plan to bring in desalinated water from Mexico

Along the Colorado River …

NASA improves snowmelt forecast in Colorado River basin: NASA is keeping track of dust that settles on snow in the Rocky Mountains. The research will help hydrologists improve their predictions for how fast the Colorado River will rise this spring.  Michelle Stokes is a hydrologist for the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center in Utah. Her job is to project how much snowmelt will flow into the Colorado River and when it will arrive.  “It’s been known for a long time that if there’s a lot of dust on the snow it’s going to melt faster,” she said. “We always thought it would be really nice if we could quantify that, because it would improve our forecast, especially the timing of when the runoff comes.” ... ” Read more from KJZZ here:  NASA improves snowmelt forecast in Colorado River basin

Commentary: Saving the Colorado River before the water runs dry:  Maite Arce and Michael Connor write, “There are a host of important natural resource challenges quickly bearing down on the new administration that require immediate attention — perhaps none more serious in America’s western states than the management and fate of the Colorado River.  The mighty Colorado River is the backbone of the west and an economic engine for the entire country. The river supports 16 million jobs, generates over $1.0 trillion in annual economic benefits, irrigates nearly 5.5 million acres of farmland, protects endangered fish and wildlife habitat, and supplies drinking water to more than 35 million Americans every year. … ”  Read more from The Hill here:  Commentary: Saving the Colorado River before the water runs dry

Precipitation watch …

From the National Weather Service:  “Dry weather will dominate through Tuesday, then another warm and wet storm will arrive across the region Wednesday into Thursday. Showery conditions dominate Friday and Saturday as a colder low pressure area moves inland over Central California with lower snow levels. River levels will rise and continue to pose problems late this week and into early next week due to more weather system, but lower snow levels may limit flooding impacts.”

Also on Maven’s Notebook this weekend …

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About the Daily Digest: The Daily Digest is a collection of selected news articles, commentaries and editorials appearing in the mainstream press. Items are generally selected to follow the focus of the Notebook blog. The Daily Digest is published every weekday with a weekend edition posting on Sundays.

Maven’s Notebook
where California water news never goes home for the weekend

no weekends

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