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New Melones water level rebounds, but still low


File photo / Union Democrat The federal custodians of New Melones Reservoir plan to close several visitor areas Oct. 1 for maintenance and to allow their natural settings to recover from human foot traffic and vehicle traffic.

The recent wet winter increased storage levels at New Melones Reservoir, but not as much as some had hoped.

Shane Hunt, a public affairs officer for the Bureau of Reclamation, said Wednesday the reservoir saw 105 percent the average in runoff from the watersheds that contribute to the lake and 115 percent the average from precipitation. However, water storage has only increased 14 percent since the start of the water year in October 2015.

“We definitely would have hoped for more, especially for Melones,” Hunt said. “We did not see a whole lot of great rebound in the water levels.”

Hunt said New Melones and its 2.4 million acre-feet capacity is one of the few reservoirs in the country that can store an entire basin of runoff water in a year. It is the fourth largest reservoir in the state.

Hunt said, because reservoir levels decreased so significantly during the recent drought, New Melones is able to hold most of the 1.1 million acre feet watershed contribution from the Stanislaus River.

“New Melones is bigger than the potential runoff from watershed,” Hunt said. “That is usually why it takes a couple of good years to recover when it is strung down.”

As of Tuesday, New Melones was just over 25 percent full, about 40 percent of the historical average for the date. Hunt said levels have already peaked and will decrease through the end of the water year.

“The water level won’t start to come back up until it starts raining again,” Hunt said. “Hopefully it will start in October, but you never know.”

For the first time since August 2015, New Melones will end the month with less water than it began. It began the month with more than 26 percent of storage capacity and has lost about 2,000 acre feet each day.

Various conditions will continue to factor into the decrease in water levels, Hunt said. In addition to dry conditions, the BLM also releases water to those with the most senior water rights downstream to help utility companies in Oakdale and areas in San Joaquin County.

Current acre feet and percentage of maximum capacity

New Melones Reservoir: 603,714 acre feet, 25 percent of 2.4 million acre feet capacity

Tulloch Reservoir: 65,845 acre feet, 98 percent of 67,000 acre feet capacity

New Hogan Reservoir: 110,465 acre feet, 35 percent of 317,000 acre feet capacity

Camanche Reservoir: 318,360 acre feet, 76 percent of 417,120 acre feet capacity

Beardsley Reservoir: 90,096 acre feet, 90 percent of 97,800 acre feet capacity

Donnells Reservoir: 59,340 acre feet, 92 percent of 64,320 acre feet capacity

Lake McClure: 552,431 acre feet, 54 percent 1.025 million acre feet capacity

Lake Don Pedro: 1.506 million acre feet, 74 percent of its 2.03 million acre feet capacity

Source: California Department of Water Resources