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Melones Water Releases Jump, SSJID Prepares For Deliveries
Rafting pix
Rafters enter the Goodwin Canyon on the Stanislaus River between Goodwin Dam and Knights Ferry. Photo Contributed

This may just be “the” year to raft the Lower Stanislaus River.

The river’s most famous rapids – the Class IV-plus Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in Goodwin Canyon – promises to be at its wildest.

Trying to gain boat access, though, to Beardsley Reservoir at 3,300 feet off Highway 108 in the Stanislaus National Forest won’t happen for a while.

The Stanislaus River watershed has taken a major pounding from storms over the last three months setting the stage for New Melones to approach full capacity for one of the handful of times since it was completed 40 years ago.

It is against that backdrop that the South San Joaquin Irrigation District system is now “fully charged” waiting for growers to indicate they need water.

SSJID General Manager Peter Rietkerk said growers will be able to get full deliveries this year as well as the cities of Manteca, Lathrop, and Tracy.

Meanwhile Tri-Dam Project – the joint venture of SSJID and Oakdale Irrigation District that operates Beardsley along with Donnells and Tulloch – are dealing with major issues on access roads.

There are segments of the road missing, sometimes 1,000 feet or more, due to mudslides and run-off.

“In many cases where there were culverts under the road they became plugged with debris and run-off rose and washed out the road,” Rietkerk said.

Rietkerk said Tri-Dam is still able to access the dams to keep them operating. Tri-Dam is working with the Forest Service and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to get the roads restored.

Part of the access road to Beardsley off Highway 108 has literally slid down the mountain.

The flip side is the heavy snow and run-off will make this a major year for hydro-electric generation to further strengthen the bottom lines of OID and SSJID. Tri-Dam is under contract to sell power it generates to Silicon Valley Power Authority based in Santa Clara.

The Bureau of Reclamation last week shifted into storage control mode after over a month of dialing back water releases from New Melones to 200 cubic feet per second or less. That helped take the pressure off the San Joaquin River as Turlock Irrigation District worked to lower the level of Don Pedro Reservoir on the Tuolumne River. Don Pedro was getting dangerously close to reaching the brim. Don Pedro recently equalized its inflow and out flow at 10,873 cubic feet per second keeping the 2,030,000 acre foot reservoir at 88 percent capacity

New Melones is now releasing 1,752 cubic feet per second as 4,848 cubic feet a second flows into the reservoir. Kicking up the release is allowing the Bureau to prep for an anticipated snowpack run-off double the normal weather year yield of 1.1 million acre feet of water from the Stanislaus River watershed. That run-off could swell even more if there is additional snow and substantial rain this spring.

New Melones was at 74 percent of its 2.4 million acre foot of capacity as of last week. The 1,504,261 acre feet of water in the reservoir reflects storage levels that are 119 percent of average for this time of year.

Rietkerk said the Bureau has indicated spring pulse flows may be scrapped this year in favor of a steady higher flow into late spring.

The Bureau is trying to juggle storage management with the projected heavy runoff in the coming months with not placing too much stress on levees along the Stanislaus and San Joaquin rivers south of Manteca and throughout the Delta.

That means there will be stronger sustained water flow in the Lower Stanislaus River that is a popular place for rafting – or what many refer to as “float trips” – due to the relative absence of rapids of consequence and usually lazy water flows. The most popular stretch is Knights Ferry to Orange Blossom although some rafting companies run as far west as Oakdale. Individual rafters will often enter the water at Oakdale and depart it in Ripon.

It also means the most famous “whitewater rafting” rapids on the Lower Stanislaus, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in Goodwin Canyon between Goodwin Dam and Knights Ferry, will have high water flows likely into June.