FOLSOM, Calif. - In a desperate attempt to avoid a water crisis in the coming months, the operator of Folsom Dam may reduce outflows to the bare minimum necessary to protect spawning steelhead trout in the American River.
Bureau of Reclamation Central California area manager Drew Lessard said his staff was in talks with federal and state wildlife officials to determine how much outflows could be cut without harming the winter run steelhead, a federally-protected species.
At 363 feet above sea level, Folsom Lake has never been so low in January; the dam is currently releasing four times more water than is flowing into the reservoir.
"We're proposing to reduce our flows into the American River so we can maintain water conservation in the dam," Lessard said.
Following the driest calendar year in recorded history, the Bureau of Reclamation has also begun planning for something the dam designers apparently never imagined: the intake that delivers domestic water to hundreds of thousands of people going above the water line.
The 7-foot diameter municipal and industrial water intake, which serves Folsom, Roseville and the San Juan Water District, is buried in the dam with the center line 317 feet above sea level. If the level of the lake drops another 43 feet, the intake could see daylight for the first time since the dam was built in 1955.
Lessard said in a worst-case scenario, a barge could be floated in one of the pools above the dam to pump water through a flexible line up to the intake.
He's still hoping that unprecedented water restrictions being implemented in communities that rely on Folsom Lake water along with reductions in outflows will keep the intake from going dry before storms can replenish the reservoir.
"I think right now, avoidance is the key."
By George Warren, GWarren@news10.net