Rep. Jared Huffman Reintroduces Bill to Modernize Army Corps of Engineers Reservoir Operations

February 10, 2015

Sonoma and Mendocino Counties, CA—Following this weekend’s rainstorm in Northern California, Congressman Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael) today reintroduced a bill last night to bring Army Corps of Engineers reservoir operations in line with modern science, save water, and help communities through extreme weather events, like droughts. The Army Corps of Engineers operates many of its reservoirs—critical for the water supply of cities and towns throughout the country—on outdated and obsolete water control manuals, some of which are as much as 60 years old. Huffman’s bill, the Fixing Operations of Reservoirs to Encompass Climatic and Atmospheric Science Trends Act (the FORECAST Act), was first introduced in the 113th Congress and would help the Corps update these manuals based on the latest atmospheric science and weather forecasting.

“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.

“This makes no sense. Reservoir operations should be based on modern science and weather forecasts, not antiquated rulebooks.

“My FORECAST Act would force the Army Corps of Engineers to update their manuals and prevent the untimely and wasteful release of water that our cities, farmers, and environment need to get through the dry months.”

The FORECAST Act allows for local entities to request that the Corps review its water operations manual. A typical review process may proceed like 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 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 through its usual review process.

"Preserving every drop of water in our reservoirs while balancing the flood control function is critical for sustaining our water supply," said Grant Davis, General Manager, Sonoma County Water Agency.  "We will continue to coordinate with Congressman Huffman, the Corps and atmospheric river scientists to better forecast atmospheric rivers."

“Lake Mendocino is nearly 60 years old. When the reservoir was built, the Army Corps of Engineers developed the existing manual using the best technology of the time—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.”

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.