With the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation planning to release significant water flows down the Stanislaus River during a time of continued drought in the area, the City of Oakdale took a stand and opposed the agency’s planned actions, expressing serious concerns with its 2015 Drought Contingency Plan.
According to city officials, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation drained approximately 60,000 acre-feet of water from New Melones reservoir on the Stanislaus River in April and May, 2014 in order to comply with environmental laws. Meanwhile, water agencies are continuing their own discussions regarding the issue. (See related story.)
“(This is)… enough to meet the annual needs of a city of half a million people,” Mayor Pat Paul wrote in a letter approved by the council on March 16 to be sent to four high-seated individuals at various water agencies.
Paul also pointed out that since last year, drought conditions have grown more severe since the last release and many forecasts predict that the drought will continue.
Paul wrote that the proposed river releases are significantly higher than required under the 2009 Operations and Criteria Plan Biological Opinion for dry and critical water years and will likely cause New Melones to reach dead pool by August and would still cause a dry river for returning fall-run salmon in September or October.
“If the reservoir reaches dead pool, communities that rely on Lake Tulloch (downstream of New Melones) for their water supply will be unable to access their water, irrigators downstream of Tulloch Dam will go without water during the hottest months of the year, and no flow will be available for fall-run salmon upon its return migration,” Paul stated. “We are very aware of the significant challenges this year that require balancing the needs of the irrigators, power generation, recreation and the environment. However, we encourage you to pursue a course of action that leaves water available during some of the hottest months in the Central Valley and that provides options for returning fall-run salmon.”
The city requested that U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, National Marine Fisheries Service, and the State Water Resources Control Board enter immediate emergency consultation to devise a new plan that would provide for reservoir and river releases to allow for conservation of water in New Melones and Tulloch Reservoirs for as long as possible and to provide certainty that the Stanislaus River would have flow throughout the remainder of the 2015 calendar year.
“We urge you to avert a preventable disaster,” Paul wrote.
Councilman Tom Dunlop, who raised the issue of opposition at the March 2 council meeting, said the planned release was a very important thing for Oakdale to oppose because of the city’s dependency of lakes and rivers for its way of life, tourism, farming, and dairymen.
“It’s my understanding if they put this plan in action as currently envisioned, they will run all the lakes out by October,” Dunlop said. “It would be very damaging to the City of Oakdale.”
The council passed the motion to send the letter unanimously.
“In light of the current drought, we need to be extra careful of our resources,” Oakdale City Manager Bryan Whitemyer said. “They (U.S. Bureau of Reclamation) need to take a serious look at if releasing water down a river is beneficial to everyone.”