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High Water Impacts North State Farms

Growers along the river throughout the Sacramento Valley have been impacted by the March high river levels. The mid-March storms forced upstream dam operators to release record level outflows from reservoirs that were at or near maximum capacity.

Farmers along the river experienced wide spread damage from tree loss, blight, and the complete inability to prepare fields in time for planting season. River levels at many locations up and down the river exceeded monitoring stage and many neared evacuation levels. While the reservoir capacity increased federal and state water allocations the crop impacts forced many growers to question reservoir operations.

Walnut growers were greatly impacted by the mid-March water releases. The trees that were just coming out of dormancy along the river were drown by high river levels that led to levee seepage. The seepage also caused blight, which will lead to severe tree loss for those growers. So what is the solution? How can these impacts be taken into account when operating our reservoirs for so many different purposes? Could something have been done different this year that would have prevented the economic impacts to growers?

The Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) that operates and maintains Valley reservoirs have a tough balancing act. The multi-use facilities are used for flood control, water supply, recreation, and fish and wildlife benefits. During the winter months flood control is top priority for reservoir operators.

BOR operations of reservoirs are guided by Army Corps of Engineers 1977 operations requirements. The requirements give strict criteria for reservoir levels, especially when nearing flood stage. Shasta reservoir is filled mostly by rainfall and only 10-percent by snow runoff, according to decades of hydrology recordings. While the reservoir capacity requirements have not changed since 1977, reservoir release requirements have been greatly impacted by the salmonid biological opinion (BO), cold water releases required for other fish andwildlife species, and Bay Delta outflow requirements for fish. The salmonid BO requires high level releases to avoid fish stranding, but the requirements do not look at downstream river levels that are being impacted by water runoff from unregulated streams and creeks.

The first step to solving the problem is educating the operators and policy makers about the problem. Illustrating what these high early spring releases do to crops is the first part of the solution. Next, is finding out how the 1977 Corps requirements can assure that downstream river levels are being taken into account, and ensuring the river capacity is what is was in 1977, and that silt has not reduced the rivers capacity since that time.

Changing the Corps 1977 requirements will take many years, but assuring that operators can take the flexibility they have in water release requirements and minimize high river releases is one thing that can be done in the short-term.

Family Water Alliance would like to guarantee you that we will continue to work with growers, agency staff, and our federal, state and local representatives to address the short and long-term solutions to this issue. ■

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