Local Drought Preparations Continue Despite Recent Rains

Local water conservation is not likely to ease the greatest strain on the area’s supplies, which is the systematic draining of Northern California reservoirs by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the State Department of Water Resources in order to fill water banks and Southern California reservoirs./Photo by Kristan Korns, Two Rivers Tribune.

By KRISTAN KORNS, Two Rivers Tribune

Communities in the Klamath-Trinity region are moving ahead with emergency drought plans despite the recent rains that sent much-needed water into local streams and reservoirs.

Trinity Lake is holding 1,263,380 acre feet of water – around 52 percent of its total capacity – up by 5 percent from where it was just a month ago.

Lonnie Danel, Willow Creek Community Services District (WCCSD) manager, said reservoir levels across California are improving.

“The only thing we’re lacking now is snowpack in the Sierras, but in our watershed we don’t rely on snowpack much,” Danel said.

The main reservoir for Coastal Humboldt communities, Ruth Lake, was 100 percent full by the end of the first week in March.

Aldaron Laird, Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District (MBMWD) Board president, said that conservation efforts before the recent rains helped.

“I would like to thank residents and businesses for conserving our most valuable resource, water,” Laird said. “While we may be one of the few agencies in California with a full reservoir, we encourage everyone to continue to use water as wisely and efficiently as possible.”

Unfortunately, local water conservation is not likely to ease the greatest strain on the area’s supplies, which is the systematic draining of Northern California reservoirs by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the State Department of Water Resources in order to fill water banks and Southern California reservoirs.

Bill Jennings, executive director of the California Sportfishing Protection Alliance, said, “Excessive water exports and the failure to prepare for inevitable drought have created a decades-long disaster for fisheries, and place the people and economic prosperity of Northern California at risk.”

That sentiment was echoed by emergency management authorities in the Hoopa Valley, where the local economy has been dependant on subsistence salmon fishing for several thousand years.

Rod Mendes, Office of Emergency Services (OES) director, said, “The issue for the Hoopa Valley Tribe is having an adequate amount of water flow in the Trinity River to support aquatic life.”

Mendes said the Tribe struggles with low water levels every year because of the water pulled out of the watershed and with the “metering” effect of the two dams built on the Trinity River.

“From that point of view, we’re in a drought situation every year,” Mendes said.

Fisheries Hydrologist Robert Franklin said, “It varies day by day, but in the long run we only get about half of the water that would normally flow if the dams weren’t there.”

This year has been even drier than usual, with the California Department of Water Resources reporting that the State is on track to have “about the driest year on record.”

Under the 2000 Trinity River Record of Decision, during a critically dry water year about 81 percent, or 368,6000 acre-feet (enough water to cover one acre a foot deep) is allocated to the Trinity River. The other 19 percent, or 85,400 acre-feet is diverted to the Central Valley. In extremely wet water years the tables turn and the river keeps 35 percent while 65 percent is diverted to the Central Valley. Approaching a critically dry water year designation, the exact flow allocation is not yet certain, but it will likely resemble the pie chart shown above./Chart recreated by the TRT from Trinity River Restoration Program informational pamphlet.

Mathew Kidwell, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Eureka, said the region experienced an unusual weather pattern this year.

“We had a big ridge of high pressure that was permanently established along the West Coast,” Kidwell said, adding that it started to break down in February, allowing a storm system to come in.

Danel said, “We actually had over seven inches of rain in February. If we can just get another two and a half or three more inches, we should be good.”

Mendes said OES was working with other tribal departments to put together a drought response plan for the Hoopa Valley. “It should be ready for Council approval in 30 to 45 days.”

Irrigation could be limited to certain times of the day, with garden and lawn watering at night only, along with voluntary conservation efforts.

Danel said Willow Creek was also moving forward with its draft drought plan as a precaution, in case the situation changes for the worse.

Under the plan, the District would cut water usage by 95 percent in the parks immediately and residential customers would be asked to cut their usage by 20 percent.

“We probably don’t have to do this, but it pays to be prepared,” Danel said, adding that the WCCSD would give seven days notice before the plan went into effect.”

Leave a Reply