Congressman Jared Huffman

Representing the 2nd District of California

Huffman updates bill that may improve Lake Mendocino storage

Jun 29, 2016
In The News

An update of a bill that may increase Ukiah Valley’s water supply by improving how Lake Mendocino is managed was introduced this week by Rep. Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael).

“Unfortunately, even during periods of extreme drought, many reservoirs are still being operated from antiquated, 60-year-old manuals,” Huffman is quoted as saying in a release from his office. “If local water agencies want to work with the (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers) to bring their reservoir operations into the twenty-first century, they should be able to do so.”

The Army Corps oversees Coyote Valley Dam, the mechanism by which water is released from Lake Mendocino, and its water manual often determines how much water is released, particularly in the rainy season.

“Modernizing the management of these federal reservoirs will ensure that water isn’t spilled for no reason,” Huffman said. “This is a no-brainer: keeping scarce water in storage until it’s needed will help our cities, farmers, and the environment.”

The bill Huffman recently introduced is an updated version of the Reservoir Operations Improvement Act, first introduced in early 2014, which allows local entities to request that the Corps review a reservoir’s water operations manual.

A typical review process may proceed like this: a local sponsor requests that the Army Corps conduct a study of a given 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 in the reservoir’s watershed, then the Corps can determine if there are better ways to operate the reservoir and possibly implement the new updated water manual through its usual review process.

The changes in the updated bill, introduced this week, include: establishing a limited pilot project for the updated reservoir operations; clarifying the process for working with the non-Federal reservoir project sponsor to limit the scope of changes in order to avoid unforeseen complications; and allowing for the Corps to incorporate existing studies in the process to reduce redundancy.

Data relevant to the operations of Lake Mendocino was collected in Ukiah in March for a scientific study called Forecast-Informed Reservoir Operations, or FIRO, which came largely out of a partnership between the Scripps Research Institute and the Sonoma County Water Agency, which owns the Ukiah Valley reservoir.

The group hopes that the forecasting model they are creating can eventually be used by the Army Corps, and graduate students were recently sent here to collect data by releasing balloons into the clouds over the Ukiah Municipal Airport.

Lake Mendocino was also chosen as the pilot project for the forecasting model they are perfecting at an Atmospheric River Observatory in Bodega Bay.

“We are focused on hydrometeorology, which combines hydrology, the study of water on the ground, with meteorology, the study of water in the air,” said Jay Jasperse, chief engineer and director of groundwater management for the Sonoma County Water Agency.

He also helps direct the FIRO research effort with Marty Ralph of the Scripps Research Institute. “If we know where, when and how much water is coming, we can better manage our water supply.”

Which is why the group is focusing on atmospheric rivers, because they are the events that fill reservoirs. If you get them, Jasperse said, you’re likely to get flooding. If you don’t, you’re likely to have a drought.

In fact, it was an atmospheric river storm in December 2012 that led the Corps to release a significant amount of water from Lake Mendocino just before 2013, now “the driest year on record,” because it still relies on a Water Control Manual created in 1959 to dictate flood-control releases.

The FIRO group argues that if much more modern forecasting models were relied upon instead, more of the water could have been retained, lessening the effects of the drought on the area.

Jasperse said he expected this phase of the research to take most of this year, and next the group will focus on translating the data into updated operating procedures for reservoirs like Lake Mendocino.

Read more about the FIRO project at https://cw3e.ucsd.edu/