Sonora residents Alan Smith, 22, and John Richardson, 22, stood Monday on green grass fishing in water mixed with wood debris at Glory Hole on the edge of New Melones Reservoir, where the level is more than 125 feet higher than it was Dec. 31.
A gaggle of a half-dozen geese honked from time to time, and other water birds congregated in another corner of the cove formed by rising waters. A solitary osprey fish hawk took wing from its perch on a shrinking peninsula nearby. Further up the hill at Black Bart, a red-headed woodpecker flitted from a post to a nearby oak.
“Pretty good fishing,” Smith said.
“Caught some spots earlier,” Richardson said. “Spotted bass.”
Gene Hildebrand, owner of Glory Hole Sports at Whittle Road and Highway 49 in Angels Camp, said the level at New Melones was up 150 feet since Nov. 1. He had state Department of Water Resources data posted in multi-colored chalk on a board below the lunch menu that shows the reservoir level precisely 149.66 higher since then.
“We’ve got a lot of people calling to come up for summer,” Hildebrand said Monday. “The marina is almost fully booked for the summer. It’s filling up.”
New Melones, the fourth-largest reservoir in California when it’s full, was holding 1,557,440 acre-feet Monday, 65 percent of its total capacity. State data shows the last time New Melones was this full was March 2013.
More storms in March and April are likely to bring more runoff and potentially higher levels at New Melones when spring snowmelt swells creeks, streams and other tributaries in the Stanislaus River watershed.
Dry spell this week
The daytime high Monday at New Melones was cool, partly cloudy and breezy in the high 40s. Overnight lows along the 49 corridor in Calaveras and Tuolumne counties are expected to remain in the 30s through Thursday, with warming by the weekend and daytime highs in the low 60s. The next chance of rain for the Mother Lode looks like Sunday.
The dry spell with sunny skies this week will remind people Spring is coming to the Central Sierra. With almond orchards in white bloom down in the flatlands outside Modesto and Waterford, and ornamental cherry trees blooming white outside Jamestown and Columbia, a bumper crop of wildflowers can be expected in coming weeks.
More water this spring in Central Sierra rivers and reservoirs could also mean more insects, including beetles and mosquitoes, more opportunities for birds and mammals to breed, more vegetation and berries for them to feed on, as well as more walking prey for predators including mountain lions.
Hundreds of trees came down in the storms of January and February this year, some due to beetle-kill and drought stress, and others due to strong winds, saturated slopes and weakened root systems.
Tree-cutting crews have remained busy this winter, in wet weather and dry spells. But one of the wettest winters on record is sure to spawn a new generation of fire-prone grasses, underbrush, seedling trees and other ladder fuels this spring, ensuring there will again be plenty of dry fuel through fire season this summer and fall.
Meantime in the Mother Lode, other major reservoirs are fuller than New Melones and some are right at capacity.
Don Pedro, the state’s sixth-largest reservoir, was 99 percent full early Monday with elevation 828.67 feet above sea level when Turlock Irrigation District staff fully closed the controlled spillway at 4:57 a.m. They had been using the controlled spillway since Monday last week to draw the level down at Don Pedro and avoid using the reservoir’s emergency spillway.
The level at Don Pedro peaked early Thursday last week at less than 4 inches below 830 feet, the reservoir’s maximum capacity. As of Monday morning, the level was 1 foot 4 inches below 830, and it was continuing to go down slowly, said Calvin Curtin, a public information officer with Turlock ID.
The controlled spillway is now closed but reuse is likely in the next couple months as more storms in the high reaches of the Tuolumne River watershed bring more runoff to Don Pedro.
To continue to make more room in Don Pedro for more storm runoff, Turlock ID staff were releasing about 10,100 cubic feet per second from the reservoir on Monday. They are expecting to continue releases at that rate to try to keep the Tuolumne River at 9th Street in Modesto below its flood stage, elevation 55 feet.
As of 1 p.m. Monday, the Tuolumne River was running about 2.8 feet above flood stage in Modesto, according to California Nevada River Forecast Center data. The Tuolumne peaked Wednesday last week at 58.9 feet elevation and has been coming down gradually since then. It’s expected to fall to 55 feet by 4 a.m. Wednesday and continue to dropping at least through Saturday.
‘Wettest year in recorded history’
On Friday last week, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers denied a formal request from Turlock Irrigation District for a deviation to maintain Don Pedro releases of 16,000 cfs until the reservoir could be lowered to an elevation of 815 feet, Curtin said.
Continuing releases from 16,000 cfs would have created additional space in the reservoir to accommodate more future inflows.
“It is extremely important to note that, to date, the Tuolumne River watershed is experiencing the wettest year in recorded history and has accumulated more than 200 percent of average precipitation for this date,” Turlock ID staff said in a statement Monday. “Snow sensors are recording a historic snowpack with potentially millions of acre-feet of additional inflow into Don Pedro when significantly warm storms or warm weather unfold in the coming months.”
Turlock ID staff will continue to work in cooperation with the Army Corps and the flood control manual for Don Pedro, Curtin said. Without adequate room in the reservoir, Turlock Irrigation District staff at Don Pedro Reservoir could be forced to use the controlled spillway again this year.
Don Pedro’s spillway facility and the spillway channel functioned as designed during the past week of releases, and there were no known issues with either, Curtin said.
The reservoir is now open for recreational use until further notice, with some road closures in effect. Bonds Flat Road remains closed to public access between Fleming Meadows and Blue Oaks campgrounds.