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Proposed Management Plan Unveiled For New Melones

The State Water Resources Control Board held a workshop April 5 in Sacramento on the 2016 operations plan for the Stanislaus River, which includes a proposal about how best to manage water resources in New Melones Reservoir through the end of this year.

The operations plan, part of a Temporary Use Change Petition being considered by the state board, will benefit the districts, the river conditions, and salmon migrating toward the ocean this spring and returning to spawn this fall. The complex plan was crafted in conjunction with state and federal agencies and the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which manages New Melones.

“This is a balanced operations plan,” said Steve Knell, general manager of the Oakdale Irrigation District. “The districts are making water available to assist with pulse flow operations that are important to federal and state regulators. At the same time, ag interests on the West Side are going to be able pick up and benefit from that water.”

“In addition to benefits for fish and farms, this proposal also allows New Melones to make positive storage gains for the first time in four years,” said Peter Rietkerk, general manager of the South San Joaquin Irrigation District. “This not only preserves water supply for next year, but also provides water temperature benefits in the Stanislaus River for this summer and fall.”

OID and SSJID have senior water rights to the Stanislaus River. They also own and operate four dams and reservoirs on the river. Together, they provide water to more than 120,000 acres of farmland as well as nearly 200,000 domestic customers.

A fifth dam, New Melones, is by far the largest storage facility in the basin. It is operated by the Bureau of Reclamation as part of its Central Valley Project, but has been drawn down to record low levels because of the four-year California drought. New Melones has room for 2.4 million acre-feet of water. As of April 11, it had 629,355 AF – about 26 percent of capacity.

This year, for the first time since 2011, snowmelt and other runoff into New Melones is projected to be near the historic average – about 1 million acre-feet. But as one federal official acknowledged at Tuesday’s hearing, the reservoir is “over-allocated” – meaning there is more water promised than is expected to flow in this year.

Thanks to water rights that were established between 1853 and 1909, and an operating agreement between SSJID, OID and the Bureau of Reclamation, the districts are guaranteed the first 600,000 AF of runoff into New Melones. They also are entitled to a “conservation account” of up to 200,000 AF.

This year’s proposed plan would ensure there is more water in New Melones to meet fish needs in October, November and December. The plan also would alleviate any demands on Tulloch Reservoir, a popular late downstream of New Melones, thereby allowing it to have normal operational and recreational water levels throughout the summer season.


The plan is a collaborative effort of the Bureau of Reclamation, SSJID and OID, the National Marine Fisheries Service, the state Department of Water Resources and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.