The proposal to drain Lake Tulloch to save fish is complicated but an example of why conservation policy must be changed putting people first.
Our Congressman -- Tom McClintock -- made this vital point in a speech on the floor of Congress. Click this link to read this important speech.
The following is background on the issue.
Saving Fish: The “Big” Idea
The United States government through the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Bureau of Reclamation have undertaken a conservation strategy that is failing and could levy a huge cost on the residents of northern California foothill communities. The goal of the federal government is to supposedly increase the number of Salmon by flushing them from upstream areas with cold water from the bottom of dams and effectively blowing the fish past predators.
Policy Fails to Achieve Goal
Independent analysis finds this policy has failed to achieve its goal. According to Congressman Tom McClintock more than 200 billion gallons of water has been wasted by flowing it into the oceans from primarily New Melones and a small amount from Folsom Dam. There have been independent studies conducted where fish have been tagged to determine if they actually reach lower waters. One test funded by the Oakdale Irrigation District found that 50,000 small fish were pushed downstream and perhaps 2,000 ever got into the lower waters.
Old timers Calaveras and Tuolumne Counties reflect that before the dams were constructed the rivers could dry up or be very low in dry years but in seasons with more rain and snow pack they were filled with fish.
This current misguided policy is the result of the pressure of extreme environmental groups like Earth First. They are now pushing for a 50% increase this year in outflow above those now planned. Today too many public policy decisions on the environment have increasing been made because a vocal group of environmental activists demand them and have effectively made their case with elected officials. Too often environmental or conservation is made in a vacuum with little consideration of the economic and social costs.
The costs to local homeowners and businesses in the Lake Tulloch basin would be huge. This comes at a time that the economy here is very fragile.
TriDam and the Irrigation Districts
Agencies such as Tri Dam and the Irrigation Districts are called upon to enforce regulations to deal with a host of environmental and/or conservation regulations. Obviously in times of severe drought this is misguided public policy because ultimately it drains reservoirs of needed water with no consideration of its impact on people. If this is all about Salmon -- the vast majority of Salmon comes from the Northwest any way.
On Tuesday OID issued a press release declared that there is a consideration of draining 40-50,000 acre feet from Lake Tulloch which would remove about 75% of the water in the lake. It is not the desire of the irrigation districts or Tri Dam to implement this policy. Lake Tulloch has about 67,000 acre feet and Melones, when full, would have 2.5 million acre feet.
Six Reasons Why Draining Lake Tulloch is a Bad Idea
o First – that water in Lake Tulloch provides the water for the thousands of people that live in the Lake Tulloch Basin/Copperopolis area. The Calaveras County Water District is opposed such an action.
o Second, it removes a valuable reserve of water that would be simply gone in the case of a severe emergency.
o Third – it will destroy the habitat in Lake Tulloch that the FERC Lake Tulloch Shoreline Management Agreement mandates.
o Fourth- it would effectively destroy our already fragile economy. People have invested their life savings in small business and their homes. This one act would deliver a devastating blow to them. In reality, the release of this story has already had a negative impact. (Note: See below photo taken of Bald Eagle February 14, 2015 on Lake Tulloch.)
o Five -- It would end summer tourism which feeds the economy.
o Six and most importantly – it wastes water and will not achieve the goal of saving fish.
The time has come for citizens to join with organizations like TriDam that serve our community and end this ridiculous policy which doesn’t even achieve its intended conservation goal but destroys lives and our area and wastes precious water.
We support Congressman McClintock and others in Congress who want to immediately either stop or significantly reduce any more releases in this severe drought. We support the creation of a Bipartisan Task Force of Congressman including Representatives such Jim Costa, Jeff Denham, and John Garamendi to save this community and others throughout rural northern California faced with the same problem.
We also need state legislators from both parties to urge Governor Brown to order state agencies to support efforts to place a moratorium on further water releases until the drought it over. Already Senator Tom Berryhill and Assemblymaan Frank Bigelow have taken action to deal with this important problem.
Supervisors to Act
The Lake Tulloch Alliance will be working with citizens to expand our collective impact to end this policy. We will post more information and news.
Finally, while the crisis right involved the Lake Tulloch Basin, these are challenges for communities throughout the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Central Valley. It is important for public policy to enhance the environment but that policy should put people first.