Shasta Dam

Storage in Shasta Lake should be rising this time of year, but lingering drought and river flows to maintain salinity levels in the Bay Delta region have taken a toll on the large reservoir.

Drought: New curtailment orders on tap for California?

Reservoirs fail to fill as drought lingers State looks at variety of options to conserve water for fish flows Snow pack and reservoir storage running well below normal

Action by the California Water Resources Control Board seeks to conserve what little water is in California reservoirs as the likelihood of a fourth consecutive drought year looms.

Included in the board’s recent decisions was a curtailment notice to water right holders that curtailments could begin in key watersheds if water demand exceeds available supply.

The state will also likely open the Delta Cross Channel Gates during the winter months to reduce salt-water intrusion into the Bay Delta system. The gates typically remain closed during the late winter and spring in order to protect fish. The move is typically unnecessary during normal years when runoff flows are high and reservoirs are filling.

The necessity to open the gates this year stems from abysmally-low storage levels in state reservoirs, including lakes Shasta and Oroville.

The State Water Board’s order provides flexibility to operate the gates based on evolving water quality conditions and fish migration information.

The approval allows for modifications of in Delta outflows and San Joaquin River flows over the next two months to preserve reservoir storage. It includes modifications to export requirements requested in the petition that allow for minimal water supplies while protecting fish and wildlife.

The action comes in response to a petition by the Department of Water Resources and the federal Bureau of Reclamation. California water officials claim the move will balance public health, water supply, environmental needs and allow the projects to better prepare for extreme drought conditions should they persist into 2015. The actions are similar to those taken in early 2014 in anticipation of statewide drought conditions.

State Water Board Executive Director Tom Howard issued an order approving elements of the Jan. 23 petition to adjust flow and water quality requirements that govern inflows and outflows in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and operation of the Delta Cross Channel Gates for the next two months. These requirements, in place since 1995, help control salinity in the Delta and protect fish and wildlife uses, and water quality for municipal, industrial and agricultural uses.

“Persistent drought conditions and our experiences last year in balancing water supply and environmental requirements require us to work nimbly together,” Howard said.

The order does not approve all of the requested changes to the export requirements at this time. Specifically, the projects requested a higher level of exports with a lower level of outflows than what was allowed last year under a similar change. Further plans could be discussed at a Feb. 18 public workshop.

The workshop will hear from the public and interested parties on the order, potential further requests to modify Delta flow and water quality requirements, or other actions that the board may take.

Further information on California State Water Resources Control Board actions can be found online.

A fact sheet on 2015 water curtailments is also available online.

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