Bill to Improve Lake Mendocino Operations Introduced Again

February 10, 2015

Legislation designed to change how Coyote Valley dam is operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was reintroduced this week by Rep. Jared Huffman (D- San Rafael).

“Reservoir operations should be based on modern science and weather forecasts, not antiquated rulebooks,” said Huffman, whose bill is called the Fixing Operations of Reservoirs to Encompass Climatic and Atmospheric Science Trends Act, or FORECAST Act.

Currently, the Sonoma County Water Agency controls releases from the dam, but once the amount of water in Lake Mendocino reaches 68,410 acre-feet, the Corps will take over. As of noon Tuesday, the lake was at 66,006 acre-feet.

“The Corps’ No. 1 priority is public safety and minimizing flood damage,” said Janet Pauli, chairwoman of the Mendocino County Inland Water and Power Commission, explaining that the lake was designed as a flood-control measure, not as a way of storing water for the county’s residents and agricultural industry.

“This weekend, an atmospheric river finally brought much-needed rain to California and the North Coast. But because the Army Corps of Engineers relies on obsolete, 60-year-old manuals to govern its operation of reservoirs, this rainstorm may still force releases of reservoir water at Lake Mendocino and Lake Sonoma that we need to make it through the next drought year,” Huffman said, explaining that the Corps “operates many of its reservoirs, which are critical for the water supply of cities and towns throughout the country, on outdated and obsolete water control manuals, some of which are as much as 60 years old.”

The bill Huffman introduced would help the Corps update these manuals based on the latest atmospheric science and weather forecasting.

“When the reservoir was built, the (Corps) developed the existing manual using the best technology of the time, (but) computers and satellites were still in their infancy,” said Sean White, director of the Russian River Flood Control and Water Conservation Improvement District. “Since that time, these technologies have been utilized to improve nearly every aspect of modern society. It’s time to add our most precious resource, water, to that list.”

The FORECAST Act allows for local entities to request that the Corps review its water operations manual, in a process such as this:

• A local sponsor, like the Sonoma County Water Agency, requests that the Army Corps conducts a study of a reservoir and its water manual.

• The Corps works with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency to analyze the latest and best science for understanding forecasting for flood and runoff.

• With this information, the Corps can determine if there are better ways to operate the reservoir to meet important needs like expanded water storage, better flood control, or improved conservation efforts.

• The Corps will then implement the new updated water manual based onr its usual review process.

Huffman was recently named Ranking Member of the newly-created House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans. The Subcommittee is responsible for matters concerning America’s water resources, federal irrigation projects, generation of electric power from federal water projects and interstate water issues. He also serves on the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee of the Transportation & Infrastructure Committee.

Pauli said last week that she feels there is renewed hope for another improvement involving Lake Mendocino, which is the possibility of raising the dam by 36 feet, which would double its storage capacity. Before that happens, Pauli said the USACE needs to complete a feasibility study, which will cost millions of dollars and require a local match of likely $1.5 million. She said she hopes local officials can garner support from state and federal representatives to make sure the study finally launches.

Paul Arden, Huffman’s spokesman, said Tuesday that his office is definitely aware of the push to raise the dam and plans to do all it can to support those efforts.

Source: By Justine Frederiksen