Tri-Dam continues to await the fall/winter draw down schedule from the Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau). During teleconferences this week, the Bureau advises that they have delayed preparation of the actual schedule due to the need to monitor temperatures along the river system below Tulloch. The Bureau does expect to open the low level valve at New Melones no later than Wednesday, August 26, 2015, and release water into Tulloch while monitoring temperatures. This water would be balanced with releases from Tulloch such that there is no anticipated change in water levels at Tulloch during this time period. Given this information, Tri-Dam is optimistic that daily average normal operating levels at Tulloch (506.5’ – 509.5’) could be maintained through September 7, 2015. Please continue to watch this website for the actual schedule, which will be posted here immediately upon it’s receipt from the Bureau.
Today’s notice is an update to Advisory Letter of last week, sent by email and regular mail. Tri-Dam is still awaiting the actual reservoir drawdown schedule from the Bureau of Reclamation (Bureau). As of today, we are not able to state with any degree of certainty when the drawdown will take place. The advisory notice was sent as a precautionary measure, in the event that the drawdown needs to begin early to try to regulate temperatures within the river, as noted in last week’s Advisory.
We are aware that the Bureau is working hard to get the schedule out, and as soon as we receive it we will get it out to everyone on the distribution list and post it on this website. Please continue to check this site for updates.
On Aug. 7, 2015, the Tri-Dam Project issued an advisory notice of the upcoming need to draw down Tulloch Reservoir as part of a multi-agency plan to lower water temperatures in the Stanislaus River for rainbow trout, which are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.
The notification to land owners around the lake specified that lowering the reservoir level could begin as early as Aug. 23 and would be coordinated with additional water releases upriver at New Melones Reservoir managed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
The Tulloch release will be done in accordance with Federal Energy Regulatory Commission licensing regulations that apply to the reservoir.
Here are answers to frequently asked questions about the management of Tulloch Reservoir and the release schedule:
Who owns the water at Tulloch Reservoir?
The Oakdale and South San Joaquin Irrigation Districts own the dam and the powerhouse and have the right to the water stored in the reservoir. They also own Beardsley and Donnells reservoirs further up the Stanislaus River in Tuolumne County. The two districts formed the Tri-Dam Project to manage these assets. The reservoirs and the water contained behind them serve the interests of the irrigation districts, to be called upon when needed and as needed.
What is different about this year’s draw down schedule?
Tulloch has a regular draw down protocol that occurs every year. The draw down normally starts in mid-September. This year it MAY start as soon as Aug. 23. It will NOT start any earlier. The draw down will take the lake to the same level as 2012-13, the last time Tulloch was lowered to test its spill gates. It will not go lower.
The only difference this year in reservoir operations over the last 37 years is that the lake is being drawn down early due to temperature issues in the river because we are in the fourth year of a deep and difficult drought. The same thing occurred in the 1977 drought.
Check the Tri-Dam Project website at www.tridamproject.com for updates and information on upcoming lake levels after Aug. 23.
Is the residential drinking water of Calaveras County Water District customers threatened?
No. The water district’s intake pipe is at 465 feet above sea level. The reservoir will be lowered to 480 feet. The pipe will remain in the water.
When will Tulloch Reservoir refill?
Tulloch will refill on the same schedule it always does, beginning mid-March 2016. It is imperative to refill Tulloch because the reservoir serves to provide back pressure on generators at New Melones so they can operate and produce electricity.
What has changed since the spring?
In April, Tri-Dam Project officials projected New Melones would have 147,000 acre-feet of water in storage at the end of September. With that number in mind, we anticipated that we would be drawing from the low level outlet and the cold-water pool in New Melones in mid-July to manage fishery temperatures downstream of Goodwin Dam. Under that initial plan, we did not see a need to pull on Tulloch’s cold-water pool until the New Melones cold-water pool had been exhausted, which we thought would not be until mid-to late September.
Two things affected that projection: Runoff from a couple of May storms and the aggressive conservation efforts of the irrigation districts’ 6,000 farmers (who saved about 100,000 acre-feet). New Melones is now projected to have 269,000 acre-feet at the end of September. That much water in the reservoir prevents the Bureau of Reclamation from operating its low level outlet. It’s a physical problem based on water elevation. That means the Bureau cannot draw upon the cold-water pool behind New Melones.
The situation today requires Tulloch’s cold-water pool to go first until such time as the lake level in New Melones is low enough so the Bureau can draw upon the cold-water pool there. We will be blending water between the two reservoirs (Melones’ high level outlet and Tulloch’s low level outlet) to lower river temperatures to protect fish.
Why so much concern about fish?
The irrigation districts must comply with the law. The federal and state Endangered Species Acts — which protect salmon and rainbow trout in the Stanislaus River – are the law. The districts are working with the federal and state governments as they enforce the law to minimize the impacts to our residents.
In California rivers last year, salmon egg loss was substantial due to warm water temperatures in October. Salmon returns will be reduced for years to come as a result. OID and SSJID bear a significant portion of the costs to increase salmon and rainbow trout populations in the Stanislaus River. The irrigation districts invest $750,000 to $1 million each year in scientific research to advance our understanding and improve these fisheries. These costs are borne by the districts’ 6,000 customers; not a single dollar comes from those who live around Tulloch Reservoir or enjoy it for recreation.
The districts will continue to protect our water interests on the river to the maximum value of our farming communities.
In consideration of the recent release of information with contradictory data about reservoir releases from New Melones, Tri-Dam and the Irrigation Districts are providing this information so that you have the most accurate and current information available.
The demands of the continuing drought and competing regulatory directives continue to challenge our entire foothill and valley regions. Tri-Dam and both Irrigation Districts (Oakdale Irrigation District and South San Joaquin Irrigation Districts) have gone to significant water measures to hold water in storage, while District farmers have seen significant reductions in irrigation allotments along with local residents through mandated conservation programs.
Tulloch has been at normal operating levels all spring and summer, in large part due to the efforts of Tri-Dam and the Irrigation Districts. Preliminary discussions between the Bureau of Reclamation (BOR), State Water Board and National Marine Fisheries Service have identified an urgent need to implement a water management strategy to control escalating temperatures in the Stanislaus River. Failure to address the escalating temperatures can result in potential Endangered Species Act challenges in violation of Federal Law.
Given the urgent nature of conditions along the river, the Tri-Dam Project expects that releases of water from Tulloch to meet the temperature objectives for O’Mykiss (Rainbow Trout) below Goodwin Dam are imminent. Initially, the release of water from Tulloch will be coordinated with the BOR’s release of cold water for the low-level outlet at New Melones. Tri-Dam expects to have the complete Tulloch reservoir fall/winter schedule later this week. Immediately upon receipt, the schedule will be posted here and sent to all waterfront property owners so that appropriate plans can be made for docks, watercraft and related facilities.
Thank you for your cooperation as we work together to cooperative manage these complex conditions. PLEASE stay focused on this website for additional updates.