California's largest farm water organization urged Gov. Schwarzenegger to follow through with his pledge to strengthen the state's levees and to increase water storage capacity to provide for California's future.

Schwarzenegger spoke recently in front of Nimbus Dam on the American River in Sacramento to emphasize his commitment to strengthen the levees. The Governor offered a $2.5 billion financing package for flood management activities during his State of the State address.

Mike Wade, executive director of the California Farm Water Coalition, said after the press conference that, “It is important that our levees be improved to protect lives and property. As equally important is the need to increase our current water storage capacity to insure that water will be there when a homeowner turns a faucet.

“Nearly 1 million acre-feet of water flowed through the spill gates of Folsom Dam during a recent 14-day period as officials increased the releases in response to recent storms.”

Water was flowing at a rate of 2,500 cubic-feet-per-second on Dec. 23 when officials opened the gates to make room for water runoff caused by the storms. That number peaked at 36,000 cfs during the next 14 days when officials began reducing the flow following Schwarzenegger's press conference. An average of 65,000 acre-feet above the initial 2,500 cfs flow was released each day during this period, bringing the total to 910,000 acre-feet in storm-caused releases.

One acre-foot of water is enough to provide the annual needs of one to two California families.

‘Staggering amount’

“This is a staggering amount when considering it is from only one reservoir,” Wade said. “Additional water was released from the north state's two largest reservoirs, Lake Oroville and Shasta. Water was retained in those two reservoirs to prevent flooding along downstream rivers. The Folsom releases were necessary to provide flood protection to the Sacramento area.”

Folsom and Shasta reservoirs stored a combined 1 million acre-feet during the storms to reduce the flood threat downstream. Both reservoirs are operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

“There will be more storms in the next few months requiring reservoir managers to release even more water to make room for new runoff,” Wade said. “These releases come at a time when very little of the water is needed by water users in our state. Consequently, most of the water flows to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and then to the Pacific Ocean. California cannot afford to allow this practice to continue while we are looking at an exploding population. More storage capacity is needed in our state and it is needed sooner than later.”

Several studies of new storage facilities are under way, including:

  • An off-stream reservoir on the west side of the Sacramento Valley;

  • Raising Shasta Dam;

  • Raising Friant Dam;

  • Constructing a new dam above Friant Dam;

  • Increasing groundwater banking facilities.

“Gov. Schwarzenegger should direct state water officials to emphasize the importance of getting these studies completed in order to provide for our state's water future,” Wade said. “There will be more storms this year and years to come before we begin expanding our storage capacity. During this time more and more water will be lost to the Pacific Ocean.”

The California Farm Water Coalition is the largest organization in the state to focus solely on farm water issues.