Avoiding Another Oroville? Don Pedro Dam Water Released



Don Pedro dam photo by USGS





I remember as a kid watching TV after school and there would be an endless parade of commercials for what seemed to be touted as California’s hottest new recreational playground, Lake Don Pedro in Tuolumne County. “You’ll like Lake Don Pedro,” the guy in the commercial says as a shot pans to a giant steer, “this ain’t no bull.” At 10 years old I thought it was catchy, though I don’t think Lake Don Pedro became the new Lake Tahoe or anything, but it is a popular fishing and boating destination.

I digress. The heavy rains pummeling California that have been wreaking havoc on the Central Valley, not to mention the evacuations and ongoing fears at the Lake Oroville spillway make for concerns about other dams holding up as water levels that were once so low are now bursting at the seems.

That’s where Lake Don Pedro and its dam entered the news cycle. Here’s Kay Recede of Sacramento’s Fox 40 with more:

Many braved fierce winds Monday to take a look at a sight that hasn’t been seen since 1997 — the opening of the Don Pedro reservoir spillway.

“We knew that this would be going on, so we wanted to just come by and take a look,” Pete Nunes, who came to the reservoir from Turlock, told FOX40.

Due to recent storms and potential damage to the dam, the Turlock Irrigation District decided to perform what they call a controlled release on Monday at 3 p.m.

Do a controlled release today so that we can control the amount of water that’s released from Don Pedro based on forecast inflows into the back of the reservoir,” TID spokesperson Calvin Curtin said.

The last time the gates were opened was 20 years ago, a move that contributed to flooding.

“I do remember all the water that was flooding out you know a lot of the farms and stuff down there,” Nunes said.

However, Curtin said this year’s release is different. This time, officials have better control.

And all those biblical rains that have been falling? From a fishing perspective it’s not the worst news, as friend of CS JD Richey writes in the Auburn Journal: 

Flooding is a major part of a healthy river. In fact, it cleans, scours and rejuvenates the entire system all the way to the bay. That being said, however, extreme floods can take their toll by scouring out spawning beds , removing large woody debris and a whole host of other things. Still, a lot of water is way better than not, from a fishery standpoint.

I am concerned by all of the sediment coming from the Oroville spillway situation. That could really silt in a lot of spawning grounds in the Feather River – especially the Low Flow section. One only need to look at the silty gravels of a heavily logged river to see how destructive that can be.

As far as fish numbers go, don’t expect any major turnarounds overnight. The stripers, shad, steelhead and salmon we’ll fish for this year were all born in crappy conditions of the drought and went to sea as juveniles when the ocean wasn’t right either.

But looking forward, small fish are getting a good flush out to sea this year and spawning, and in-river conditions for adult fish this season should be excellent … which will, of course, pay dividends down the road.