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UPDATE: Weather cooperates with Folsom Lake

Storms help bolster Folsom reservoir

Rain gives lake an additional five-foot cushion
By: Don Chaddock, The Telegraph
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Recent storms have helped bolster Folsom Lake, replenishing what it lost during the first half of December and adding 8,500 acre feet of water. In the first two weeks of the December, the lake was down approximately 10,000 acre feet and within just 46 feet of the intake pipe that feeds water to the residents of Folsom. The intake pipe now sits a more safe distance of 51 feet below the water’s surface when measured at Folsom Dam, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. In early October, Folsom Utilities Director Ken Payne said the city hoped to keep the lake’s level around 390 feet. A stage two water alert went into effect in September. The lake now sits at 371 feet and was at its lowest on Dec. 14 when it was at 366.77 feet. The intake pipe is at the 320-foot mark. "We’re in a stage two now and we operate as we are now and hope there’s a lot of rain," Payne said. According to USBR Deputy Area Manager Rick Johnson, who oversees Folsom Dam, the bureau is very aware of the water level and they are keeping a close eye on the situation. “We are watching the lake levels pretty closely,” he said. “We’re still have a way to go before we reach (the) intake (used by) the city of Folsom, Roseville and San Juan Water District.” He said the recent rainfall has meant fewer releases from the reservoir. The lake is a prime source of fresh water that can be used quickly to “flush” the Delta as part of the Central Valley Project. Even if the water dips below the 320-foot mark, Johnson doesn’t believe it will be an issue. “I’m not anticipating that (getting water to the pipe) will be a problem,” he said. Less than two years ago, the bureau floated pumps in the reservoir to get water into the pipeline while maintenance work was completed on the intake. He said if the water got too low to reach the intake, they would most likely use the same approach. The lake is still at less than 25 percent capacity. If the lake gets below 320 feet, where the city’s pipeline puts in at the dam, then the city, in theory, could run dry. “Then we actually get worried about getting water into our pipeline,” Payne said. The low lake drew the attention of state Assemblyman Ted Gaines last month when he toured the lake to see firsthand how dire the situation is. “The historic low levels at Folsom Lake are a cause for great concern not only here in Northern California, but throughout the state,” Gaines said. “California is facing a water crisis and we need to take action now to ensure we can meet California’s future water and flood control needs.” Gaines said he toured the lake to highlight the need for better water use and storage planning in the state. “We haven’t added a new water storage facility in decades,” he said. He was also concerned about the bureau releasing water from Folsom Dam Reservoir, known as Folsom Lake, to protect fish in the Delta when the water level has gotten so low. “Any release of water out of Folsom Dam should not be at the detriment of our citizens,” Gaines said. “The priority should be people get water first and environment gets water second.” Gaines said it’s time the state invested in water infrastructure needs. “The fix is additional water capacity – not only for homeowners, but for our prospering agricultural economy,” Gaines said. “Last year, in the Fresno area, we had land go fallow because of the Delta smelt issue. You could not get water down south. We’re hurting our economy and not getting water to citizens. (Water capacity) is something we’ve ignored.” Folsom City Councilman Andy Morin urges residents to continue conserving water. “As far as changing our conservation alert level in Folsom, it would be a couple of more months as we see how the winter season develops,” he said. On a recent sunny afternoon, the lake was seeing some recreational use. “I’m here for the first time this summer,” said Alex Kolisa, on vacation from the Ukraine. Kolisa and two friends were fishing along the shoreline, but hadn’t caught anything yet. “Last year, water was up here,” he said, pointing higher up Brown’s Ravine, which is now empty. At the old Red Bank ruins, featured in The Telegraph’s “From the depths” series in October, Robert Whorton walked along the remains of the old 1872 winery that is usually underwater. The winery was halfway submerged when The Telegraph visited the site the first time. It was now at least 30 feet from the water’s edge. Whorton drove from Sacramento to see the ruins and says he’s familiar with the lake. “I’ve been out here before,” he said. “When I was a kid, my folks would drive out to the overlook so we could watch them building the dam.” He expected to see the water as low as it was, he said. “I’m not really surprised,” he said. “This is probably the second lowest the lake has been.” Don Chaddock may be reached at donc@goldcountrymedia.com. Check out how the lake has turned up hidden secrets with The Telegraph's "From the Depths" series. Part 1 - From the Depths: History resurfaces as lake level falls