Union Democrat staff

With historic sites around New Melones Reservoir being exposed by receding water levels, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is reminding visitors that it's against federal law to alter, disturb or remove any artifacts.

The bureau issued a statement Thursday asking visitors to help protect the historic and cultural resources by not handling, removing, relocating or destroying any artifacts or ruins found on or along the lake bed.

New Melones Reservoir is nearing historic lows after three straight years of drought.

The reservoir contained just over 559,000 acre-feet of water this morning, according to the California Department of Water Resources. That is far below the reservoir's total capacity of 2.4 million acre-feet and just 40 percent of the historical average to date.

Ruins from the old town of Melones are becoming visible as water levels recede, including the foundation of a stamp mill. The former gold mining town was flooded after the New Melones project was completed in 1978.

Historic sites around the lake and those that are normally covered by water in the reservoir are protected by the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, the bureau said. The use of metal detectors is also prohibited within the New Melones Project Area.

To report any found ruins or artifacts - or any tampering, destruction or removal of ruins or artifacts - call the New Melones Lake office at 536-9094.

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