California - A State of Lunatics
Billions spent on a bullet train to nowhere while
water is dumped out to sea during a drought.
(KQED) - There’s a rule in California that may seem bizarre in a drought-stricken state: in the winter, reservoirs aren’t allowed to fill up completely.
In fact, even as this post goes up, a handful of reservoirs are releasing water to maintain empty space.
The practice, which has long inflamed combatants in California’s water wars, is due to a decades-old rule designed to protect public safety. If a major winter storm comes in, reservoirs need space to catch the runoff and prevent floods.
But with advances in weather forecasting, some say this preemptive strategy is outdated. A new, “smart” flood control system could save water in years when Californians need it most.
At one of the state’s major reservoirs — Folsom Lake, east of Sacramento — the volume of water spilling from the dam has swollen eight-fold in the past few weeks, sending billions of gallons downstream, much of it into San Francisco Bay.
|Dumping water out to sea during a drought|
Early in February the reservoir reached a key threshold: 60 percent full, which is the highest water level allowed during the winter months, according to rules from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency.
Last year, most of the reservoir was a dry, dusty lakebed.
“What reservoir was left was confined to the old river channels before we built the dam,” says Drew Lessard of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that manages the reservoir.
Just an average-size winter storm can send huge volumes of water down the American River into Folsom Reservoir, boosting the lake by 10 percent or more. A major storm can produce dramatically more than that.
Sitting 40 percent empty allows the reservoir to act as a buffer against floods, gulping the runoff without overflowing. In years where the upstream reservoirs are fuller, Folsom Reservoir is required to remain 60 percent empty.
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