Category Archives: History

Snow survey reveals CA water content at 185% of average

The Sierra snowpack survey conducted Wednesday revealed that the northern Sierra water content is well above average for this time of the year and bodes well for runoff later in the year.

Numbers manually taken by water officials at the Phillips Station in El Dorado County revealed 43.4 inches of water content, which is 179 percent of the long-term average for March 1, and a snow-depth of 112.7 inches.

The water content did not break the record of 56.4 inches for that station, but Frank Gehrke, of the California Department of Water Resources, said it is “a pretty phenomenal snowpack.”

“It bodes very well for runoff much longer than we have had in the past four or five years,” Gehrke said. “It’s a very, very good indicator of good surface water supplies as we head into spring and summer.

As of March 1:

  • The northern Sierra is 159 percent of average.
  • The central Sierra is 190 percent of average.
  • The southern Sierra is 201 percent of average.

The central and southern regions are tracking “very close” to 1983, which is when the maximum snowpack was recorded statewide.

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Dam manuals keep California’s water future in the past

“Sacramentans will recall how the operators of the Folsom Lake dam dumped billions of gallons of water last year at this time into the American River, never mind that the region was gripped by drought and a heat wave. The reservoir was down to 40 percent of capacity, under clear skies. But dam operators had no choice.”

The Oroville Dam crisis was about infrastructure. The scare this week stemmed from rickety spillways, not dam management.

But if other aspects seemed familiar, it may be because it again highlighted the gap between modern science and the antique flood-control manuals governing major dams in California. As The Bee’s Ryan Sabalow and Andy Furillo reported, the guiding document determining how full Lake Oroville can be in a rainy season hasn’t been updated since the Nixon administration, and is almost as old as the dam itself.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manual, they reported, was last revised in 1970, two years after Oroville Dam’s completion. A lot can change in 47 years.

Science has advanced, in meteorology and engineering. Weather satellites, computer models and research into atmospheric rivers have made it possible to forecast storms with an accuracy previously unimagined. Climate change has upended assumptions.

Two of the biggest floods ever to hit the region have occurred since the Oroville Dam manual was written; on its sepia pages, it’s as if they never happened. The story is the same for all 54 of the state’s primary flood-control dams, whose manuals are 30 years old or older.

“California’s flood infrastructure is based on the hydrology of the past,” Jeffrey Mount of the Public Policy Institute of California told The Bee. “I don’t know a scientist anymore who thinks the future is going to look anything like the past.”

This isn’t just some clerical issue. The owners of those 54 dams cannot deviate from the manuals’ old models in determining water levels. That inflexibility has become a problem in both wet and dry years.

Sacramentans will recall how the operators of the Folsom Lake dam dumped billions of gallons of water last year at this time into the American River, never mind that the region was gripped by drought and a heat wave. The reservoir was down to 40 percent of capacity, under clear skies. But dam operators had no choice.

The installation of a new spillway at Folsom this year has triggered an update, finally, to its manual. Oroville’s problems, and ensuing repairs, could eventually mean a new and improved manual for it, too.

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Gigantic Spike-Toothed Salmon Swam In California Rivers 5M Years Ago

At 400 pounds and 8 feet long, this salmon would be good eating—if only it wasn’t extinct. Oncorhynchus rastrosus, the giant spike-toothed salmon, lived in California for around 7 million years, going extinct 5 million years ago. This monster salmon, which is closely related to modern Pacific salmon and actually a member of the same genus, luckily left behind clues about its life and behaviors in its fossil remains. New research by paleontologist Julia Sankey at California State University Stanislaus and colleagues in PaleoBiosgets to the bottom of how this behemoth lived and bred.

Spike-teeth or saber-teeth? When this salmon species was first described, researchers called it a “sabertooth salmon” because of the long, robust teeth on its upper jaw, but actually they point outward instead of downward. This makes them more spike-teeth rather than sabers. The teeth were around 1.5 inches long and pointed straight out from the top of the jaw– likely used for breeding, digging and fighting. Living Pacific salmon fight with each other during mating season for the breeding rights to females, but did O. rastrosus do the same?

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Tarantulas looking for love near Folsom Lake

Tarantulas are out looking for love and hikers are being warned to look out for them.

Last weekend, while hiking along the Darington Trail near Folsom Lake, ABC10’s John Bartell came across one of those hairy arachnids. A group of mountain bikers warned John and his girlfriend, who were on the trail at the time, of a tarantula. A surprisingly large tarantula. If you listen closely to the video, you can hear John’s girlfriend warn him about picking up the eight-legged creature.

Wade Spencer, a member of the UC Davis Entomology Department, works with spiders. He said tarantulas can bite, but only if they are only aggressive when agitated. Though they have fangs and carry poison, tarantulas are not considered a serious threat to humans.

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Why are salmon dying? (Hint: It’s a good thing…)

Dead salmon are washing up on banks of the American River. It sounds gruesome but it’s actually a good thing.
The annual salmon run is underway and the fish have traveled thousands of miles to spawn then die in our waterways.
“Within the last decade we have seen a downward trend,” said Department of Fish and Wildlife researcher Jeana Phillips. The DFW keeps a close eye on the salmon population. Every year a team of researchers count dead salmon after they have spawned.
The American River Nimbus Fish Hatchery in Rancho Cordova is full of salmon right now. A number of salmon in the American River were released from the Nimbus Fish Hatchery. Salmon hatch in rivers then make their way to the ocean where they spend 3 to 4 years. When they are ready to breed. Salmon leave the ocean, head back to the area they were born, lay eggs, then die.
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Original Salmon Falls Bridge Resurfaces At Folsom Lake

Salmon Falls Bridge

With water levels receding at Folsom Lake, old little snapshots of history are reappearing.

As documented by the Placer County Sheriff’s Office over the weekend, the orginal Salmon Falls Bridge has reappeared due to the low water levels.

The bridge is among the last remnants of the historic colony on Mormon Island. Back in Gold Rush times, the colony housed more than 2,500 residents. A devastating fire tore through the settlement in 1856 and it was never rebuilt.

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California high court upholds ban on dredges to extract gold

California’s ban on the use of suction dredges to extract gold from rivers is legal and not overridden by a 19th century federal law that allows mining on federal land, the California Supreme Court ruled Monday.

The court’s unanimous decision was a victory for environmentalists and a blow to miners, who argued that the ban essentially stopped gold mining because doing it by hand is labor intensive and makes the enterprise unprofitable.

Environmentalists say suction dredge mining risks killing fish and stirring up toxic mercury.

The high court’s ruling came in an appeal of a criminal case in which miner Brandon Rinehart was convicted of a misdemeanor for suction dredge mining without a permit in 2012 and sentenced to three years of probation.

Associate Justice Kathryn Werdegar, writing for the court, said the federal Mining Law of 1872 did not guarantee a right to mine free from regulation.

Instead, its goal was to protect miners’ property rights involving the federal land to which they laid claim, she said.

“The mining laws were neither a guarantee that mining would prove feasible nor a grant of immunity against local regulation, but simply an assurance that the ultimate original landowner, the United States, would not interfere by asserting its own property rights,” she wrote.

Rinehart’s attorney, James Buchal, said the high court showed a “casual disregard” for federal law.

He said Rinehart would likely ask the court to review its ruling or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Suction dredges are powerful underwater vacuums that suck up rocks, gravel and sand from riverbeds to filter out gold.

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Natomas Levee Project Ready To Begin

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has the go-ahead to begin a nine-part levee-improvement project for the Natomas Basin in Sacramento.

The final documents required for the project have been signed and the Army Corps will put the first section of levee repair out to bid this fall. The levees are part of a system that diverts watershed runoff into the American River.

John Hogue is the project manager for the corps. He says each of the nine repair projects is called a “reach” and includes construction of a cutoff wall to prevent seepage. He says each reach project will present its own set of obstacles.

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California’s outdoor writers flock to Auburn, Placer County

They came. They saw. They were conquered – by Placer County’s outdoor attractions.

That was the consensus of local tourism industry spokespeople after 58 writers and photographers with the Outdoor Writers Association of California were treated to a variety of opportunities to explore and learn about Placer County’s outdoor amenities as part of the group’s conference Sunday and Monday in Auburn.

Bob Semerau, association president emeritus, had praise Tuesday for organizers and Auburn attractions.

“Experiencing the broad spectrum of outdoor adventure opportunities to be found in Placer County has given the membership a real appreciation for this lovely part of California,” Semerau said. “Fly fishing the middle fork of the American River with Grady Garlough of Rise Up River Trips highlighted the pristine and wild natural beauty to be found throughout the region. And the fishing was awesome.”

Mora Rowe, Placer County Visitors Bureau executive director, said Tuesday that many facets of the county’s outdoor tourism-based industry were presented to the organization in tours and recreational opportunities.

They included bass fishing on Folsom Lake, a tour of ancient geology and watersheds in the Foresthill area and target practice at the Auburn Trap Shooting Club. At the Auburn Quarry near Cool, experienced rock climbers were offered the opportunity to climb a cliff.

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Levee ‘armoring’ along the American River Parkway draws concerns

Years of rumbling dump trucks and backhoes placing 2.75 million tons of rock “armor” along nearly a dozen miles of riverbank is an unpleasant thought for many who bike, jog, fish, bird-watch, golf, boat and swim along the lower American River Parkway.

But to demonstrate why officials currently are planning for some version of that scenario, Rick Johnson, the executive director of the Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency, points to a striking aerial photo taken after one of the worst deluges ever recorded in this region.

The photo was snapped in February 1986 after an extraordinary Pineapple Express storm filled reservoirs and rivers and pushed Sacramento’s flood infrastructure to its limits. The image shows an area near where the Capital City Freeway crosses the American River; it looks as if several giant bites had been taken out of the massive levee there.

Just on the other side of the levee sits the River Park neighborhood. If the rushing river – which at one point was surging with more than a million gallons per second – had eaten away just a few more feet of the barrier, Sacramento would have been awash in floodwater that would have rivaled what swamped New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Tens of thousands of homes could have been flooded.

But it wasn’t until the American River receded that anyone knew how close the city had come to disaster.

“The scary part is you couldn’t see (the damage to the levee). It was all underwater,” Johnson said. “We didn’t even know that was happening until after the water came down. They should have evacuated, quite frankly.”

Prompted by recent changes in state and federal flood control policy – largely in reaction to Katrina – local officials and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are in the initial phases of planning a $375 million project that would add a layer of rocky erosion protection along up to 11 miles of the lower American River.

The levees under consideration stretch along segments of the American River, starting where it meets the Sacramento River near downtown and ending upstream near the Butterfield neighborhood, which is about 4 miles east of the Watt Avenue bridge.

The project has presented flood control officials with a major challenge: How do they balance the need to armor the levees against erosion while at the same time protecting – or restoring after construction – the stream-side riparian habitat, as well as the trails and river access that make the lower American River Parkway a local treasure?

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