Snow melt pushes Lake Oroville to within capacity
It has been dramatic watching Lake Oroville rise since the beginning of the year. Even more astonishing is how far it has come since I moved to Butte County in 2021.
In 2021, Lake Oroville hit a record low 628 feet. The previous record of 645 feet was set in 1974.
Capacity is 900 feet, what’s called a full pool. On May 23, it was at 891 feet, with water being released into the Feather River in anticipation of more snow melt.
That record amount of snow in the Sierra, well, it’s filling reservoirs throughout California.
The parking lot at Lime Saddle, one of the boat launches for Oroville, only a few months ago was full of houseboats. There wasn’t enough water for them to float in.
Last weekend the parking lot was full of boat trailers with people out on the water for the day.
Instead of looking like something out of an apocalypse, this reservoir is inviting, with people swimming, water skiing, fishing and enjoying their houseboats.
Now if only we could wave a magic wand to have more predictable rain/snow as well as summer heat.
Multi-use trail being built through heart of Napa Valley
Anyone who has driven through the Napa Valley on Highway 29 knows all too well this is not a safe road for cyclists.
But what if a trail paralleled this main thoroughfare? What if it had a start/end point at the ferry terminal in Vallejo so it connected to the greater Bay Area?
The nearly $60 million, 47-mile Vine Trail is going to do just that and then some.
Calistoga is the other start/end point of the trail. This will be at the Oat Hill Mine Trail at the junction of Highway 29 and the Silverado Trail before heading over Mount St. Helena.
As with most trails, it’s being built in sections that aren’t linked—yet. This month construction resumed on the eight-mile Calistoga to St. Helena section. It should be finished this year.
The whole project is being spearheaded by the nonprofit Napa Valley Vine Trail Coalition. Money is coming from the feds, state and various partners. The project started in 2008 and will be done in 2027 at the earliest.
On a weekday afternoon last month three of us pedaled the paved path from Napa north to Yountville. We were next to, but separated from, the tracks used by the wine train. It was about 12 miles round trip.
While we had been warned there are lots of roads to cross, it wasn’t any big deal. There are roads to cross on most of the trails I’ve ridden on in urban areas. We weren’t huddled up against vehicle traffic, or crossing when cars did. I always felt safe.
Oak Knoll and Yountville, two of the 10 sections of trail, had signs with information about these locations like how “George Yount planted the first vineyards in the Napa Valley in 1836 in the area now known as NapaNook.” Presumably there will be kiosks like this at each section. It makes the route educational as well as scenic.
This trail is not just for cyclists. This means it is wide enough to accommodate walkers, joggers and dogs going in both directions. E-bikes are allowed, but not other motorized vehicles.
Here is the Vine Trail map.
Tahoe water companies not worried about going dry anytime soon
Spigots throughout the basin are not going to run dry for decades, if ever.
This largely has to do with being at the top of the watershed, a geological composition that is conducive to capturing and storing groundwater, a ginormous lake to store water and draw from, conservation measures reducing use, and limits on growth.
Even with the forecast for less snow and more rain (hard to imagine with snowfall records breaking this year), the basin is in good shape, according to South Tahoe Public Utility District.
“Seven of the last 17 years were below normal precipitation. Despite a decrease in total storage in the basin, the groundwater remains stable,” Shelly Thomsen, STPUD director of public and legislative affairs, said. “Our lake fluctuates a lot in levels. We do not see that same level in groundwater fluctuations. It is more stable.”
Groundwater is collected via snow literally melting into the ground, and with runoff reaching Lake Tahoe. The lake is a groundwater basin because its bottom absorbs water. These groundwater components are hydrologically connected.
STPUD applied for a $2 million state grant to help address groundwater and climate change issues. STPUD wants to better understand how threats to the greater ecosystem might alter groundwater. More rain and less snow could impact tree mortality and wetlands significantly.
“The biggest concern for our community with regards to climate shifts is what does it do for the groundwater dependency systems,” Julie Ryan, engineering manager, with the district, said.
STPUD collects groundwater data twice a year. Desert Research Institute in Reno helps with projection models.
“We are constantly imputing the most up-to-date climate projects so we don’t end up like the Colorado River,” Ryan said.
Ryan explained there is a limit to groundwater capacity, though. “Generally you hit groundwater about 15-feet deep and then it’s saturated below that. Our groundwater basin is really quite full. There is not a lot of room for more water below ground.”
STPUD, Lukins and Tahoe Keys water districts rely completely on groundwater—or wells. Lakeside on the California side and many Nevada water purveyors draw directly from Lake Tahoe. (Lakeside uses a well in emergencies.)
STPUD is looking into securing surface water rights through the state, meaning it would be able to use lake water.
“We would be more resilient if we had surface water,” Ryan said. “If you have PCE (tetrachloroethylene) it can take decades to resolve that. Surface water quality you have to deal with on a daily basis, but there are fewer surprises. But when there are surprises, they are easier to manage.”
STPUD has long said the largest threat to its water supply is contamination, not the lack of water to pump. Lukins and the Keys districts continue to deal with PCE. Arsenic and uranium are two naturally occurring contaminants groundwater purveyors must contend with.
In the early 2000s STPUD won settlements against Chevron and Shell regarding MTBE (methyl tert-butyl ether) seeping into the groundwater; with some of that money being spent on new wells.
STPUD started a groundwater management plan after the MTBE brouhaha.
California has only been regulating groundwater since 2014. A that time, STPUD with El Dorado County Water Agency became the overseers of the newly created Tahoe South Subbasin. They manage the groundwater with the help of an advisory group that meets twice a year. The boundaries are from the state line west to Eagle Point and south to Christmas Valley. So, it includes the smaller California water districts, along with nearly 700 private wells.
State law mandates plan updates every five years. STPUD did so in 2022. The state Department of Water Resources in March discussed districts that are overdrafting, which means using more water compared to what is replenished each year.
The Tahoe South Subbasin isn’t even close to being in this category. More water is collected compared to what is used.
Notables from 2022 the report:
- Approximately 1.8 million acre-fee of groundwater storage is available. (An acre-foot is the equivalent of 1 acre being covered with 1 foot of water.)
- Average annual recharge from 2010-19 was 48,300 acre-feet per year (AFY) and the average from 1983–2019 was 41,600 AFY.
- Groundwater withdrawals averaged 7,660 AFY and 7,150 AFY from 1983–2019 and 2010–19, respectively.
- Between 2010-19 groundwater storage increased an average of 1,700 AFY.
- The state allocates a maximum of 12,493 AFY to be pumped.
- Maximum pumpage is expected to be 11,800 AFY using El Dorado County’s 50-year population growth rate.
Note: This story first appeared in the March 2023 issue of the Tahoe Mountain News.
Floral bouquet fills mountain bike trails in Napa County
When I think of a wildflower excursion, I think hiking . On this particular day it was via mountain bike. We stopped plenty of times along the single-track trail to ohh and ahh, take pictures and appreciate Mother Nature’s palette.
The abundance of poppies was incredible. Many were at least a foot tall, with some covering entire hillsides.
We also saw Ithuriel’s spear, hairy vetch, false bindweeds and others.
The flowers didn’t stop when we went on the trail paralleling Lake Hennessey. A patch of irises was outstanding. One hill was awash in purple with thick clumps of lupine.
The three of us were at Moore Creek Park in St. Helena for an afternoon of riding. Becky and I had the advantage with e-bikes, while Barb did the old-fashioned thing using only human power.
Fortunately a fellow rider in the parking lot directed us to the trail with flowers. In some ways I wished I had been on two feet instead of two wheels, just to appreciate the scenery a bit more, to linger.
But really, no complaints. The trail was great. Nothing technical—which is very much to my liking. Out of my peripheral vision I could see a bit of a drop off that triggered my fear of heights, but not enough so to have to get off the bike.
We made a loop on this route. Going down I seem to be even slower. I really don’t like going fast. Some of the hairpin turns necessitated walking the curves, but otherwise it was a fun descent.
Being in this 1,600 acre park defies what one usually thinks of in the Napa Valley. That’s because we weren’t in the valley floor. It was a bit rugged, filled with oak trees and not grape vines. The activity was athleticism, not drinking wine.
I didn’t know the color green has so many shades. It was spectacular looking out on this mid-April afternoon to see all the trees and hills looking do vibrant and healthy after all the winter rains.
While people warned us of poison oak, you can’t always avoid it. I was the only one to leave with an itchy souvenir.
In all we rode about 16 miles; starting with the Valentine Vista Trail and ending with what was mostly a fire road around part of Lake Hennessey. The first trail is part of the much larger Bay Area Ridge Trail.
Bounty of water a boon for Table Mountain falls and flowers
Waterfalls and wildflowers, it’s one of the best combos when it comes to scenic hikes.
It’s going to be hard to beat this season for witnessing the two together or separately. With the runoff far from peak, the falls that rely on snowmelt as their water source are nowhere near their peak.
My guess is sometime this month the flowers at Table Mountain are going to be their most vibrant. The falls, because they don’t benefit from snowpack, are likely to have been at their most robust unless we get some spring showers.
On April 8, under partly cloudy skies, the 3,300-acre North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve in Oroville was stunning—at least the 6 or so miles of what I saw.
On this particular Saturday a group from the Chico Oroville Outdoor Adventurers started just south of the main parking lot with our first destination being Beatson Falls.
Before we got there we traipsed through Mother Nature’s bouquet of owl’s-clover, bird’s-eye Gilia, milk thistle, poppies, sun cups and other wildflowers.
While some lupine were out, they are not going to be as prolific as years past because they don’t like water.
With the temps cool to start with, the poppies were mostly closed. As the sun struggled to shine, these California natives were opening up.
This was a first for me to hike to see Beatson Falls. What a delight. The 100-foot drop into a majestic canyon was mesmerizing. The steep basalt cliffs were covered in green grass, thus adding to the stunning beauty.
Not going back exactly how we came brought us to the base of Hollow Falls. While shorter at 69 feet, Hollow Falls seemed to have a swoosh to her as she fell into the pool of water.
The top of Hollow Falls is the waterfall that so many people hike to from the parking lot. Because the paths from the parking area have been changed this year and lead people away from the private property it keeps most people from Hollow Falls. Still, it’s possible to see these falls from the top or bottom.
I was mostly hiking with my niece, Veronica—who has been to Table Mountain many times, but not where we were—and her boyfriend, Garrett, a first-timer to the site. We looked behind us and no one was there. Hmmm. Clearly, we were not on the path that the leader intended, which was to finish at the main parking lot.
No worries, we made it back to the car without needing a shuttle (which was the group’s plan) and without retracing our original steps. Signage was fine even though it was a bit disconcerting to be walking in the opposite direction of the signs that pointed to the parking lot.
Mother Nature outdid herself. It was a glorious day.
Short jaunt leads to stunning falls in Napa County
Tumbling nearly 50 feet, Linda Falls along Conn Creek splits in two as she cascades down the rocky formation.
It was about eight-tenths of a mile to the falls from the car. The route starts off with walking on slabs of rock before it turns into hardpack soil.
Several trees were down when we were there the first Sunday of April. Nothing that couldn’t be climbed over. But some trail work to clean up from the winter storms definitely needs to take place.
Redwoods, oaks and conifers fill the landscape.
With how much rain there was this winter and early spring, trickles of water are seeping through the rocks that aren’t part of the main falls. There, lush green moss is growing.
It gets a little steep on the descent to the falls, but it’s not treacherous or scary. Poles might be desired by those with knee issues.
The 177-acre Linda Falls Preserve is part of the Land Trust of Napa County on Howell Mountain near Angwin.
The preserve is said to have one of the most diverse habitats in the county with 130 native plant species.
Conn Creek is a tributary of the Napa River and feeds Lake Hennessey, which is the primary drinking water source for the city of Napa, according to the land trust.
In all, the land trust is protecting more than 53,000 acres, which represents about 10 percent of Napa County.
Parking is not ideal along the road, nor are there many signs, at least the way we got to the area. Good thing Sue had been there before and could use GPS to get us to the starting point. From then on, the trail was well marked.
Dogs are not permitted, which is to protect the wildlife. Unfortunately, people weren’t paying attention to the rules when we were there.
Wildflowers signal spring’s arrival in Sonoma County
All the colors of the rainbow were sprouting from the lush green grasses at Foothill Regional Park in Sonoma County last weekend.
Some were short, some were more than a foot tall, some were just starting to sprout, others were in full bloom. They all were spectacular.
Near the end of the guided hike on April 1 our leader Cricket with Sonoma County Regional Parks had the more than two dozen people on the hike name as many flowers as we could—I’m still one to say, “Oh, that’s a pretty purple one” without ever learning its name. The color data was good information to have when we tried to figure out if we had seen the entire spectrum of the rainbow.
We spent more than two hours walking about 1½ miles through this 211-acre park in Windsor. Clearly, on this paid ($10) outing we didn’t see all aspects of the park, but we sure saw a ton of flowers.
Cricket was the perfect guide as she dispersed information—like how the wild radish is not native, but it’s not one of the bad invasive species; or how leaves of the Pacific sanicle, aka snakeroot, can be made into a poultice to treat a snake bite; that the irises found in this park are the bold tube variety and will only be around a short time in the spring; and how the Johnny-tuck flower is also called butter and eggs.
With the abundance of rain this winter, it’s bound to be an epic wildflower season. It was clear that on this particular Saturday we are far from the peak—at least in Sonoma County. Once the temps start to rise and the sun is out more, the flora is bound to pop.
Lake Oroville so full water being released
From drought to floods. Such is the state of life in California.
There has been so much rain and snow this year that state officials on March 10 started releasing water via the Oroville Dam spillway; something that hasn’t happened since April 2019.
“Road closed” didn’t hinder us from our quest to see the water tumbling over the spillway.
We parked and started walking the nearly three-quarters of a mile before we could hear and see the roar of white water descending the concrete spillway on its way to the Feather River.
Near the bottom the churning water was like a boiling caldron—though this water was far from being hot.
A light mist drifted our way. It was like being close to a thundering waterfall. Mom and I were there on March 18. That day the Department of Water Resources was releasing 35,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) from the Lake Oroville to the Feather River, with 23,000 cfs flowing through the low-flow channel within the city of Oroville. On March 20 the flow from the spillway was reduced to 27,500 cfs, with 16,500 cfs flowing through the low-flow channel.
The state agency said, “These releases are being made in coordination with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and downstream water operators for flood control protection to surrounding communities. DWR continues to closely monitor lake inflow levels and will adjust releases accordingly.”
Lake Oroville is the largest State Water Project reservoir, which provides water for 27 million people along with various ag interests.
On March 17, the water level at the lake hit 867 feet. Full is considered 900 feet. On March 20 the lake was at 858 feet.
Department of Water Resources officials in their overbearing nanny state way decided to close Oro Dam Boulevard between Rusty Dusty Road and Canyon Drive because “higher releases from the main spillway cause excessive water spray across the road and reduce driver visibility. This section will remain closed to traffic until releases from the main spillway are reduced to a level that is safe for motorists.”
Oh my god, people, really? Like we haven’t been driving in rain here all winter. Like there isn’t fog to contend with in the valley. Like snow isn’t an issue for this region, too—really, there is snow close by. A little water spray is considered dangerous?
Now, I can see closing the road to deter looky-loos like me and mom. But be truthful DWR. You don’t want to deal with the traffic so some bogus reason for the road closure is the easy out.
The road did reopen March 21 after the flow was decreased and that dangerous mist went away.
The spillway really is something to see in person.
With wet weather in the forecast for the rest of this month and the snowpack so voluminous, this reservoir will be full.
Changing seasons bring color and life to many landscapes
The calendar says spring is going to arrive next week.
Depending on where you live it looks and feels a lot more like winter and that spring’s arrival will be in the distant future. That’s what happens when there is record snowfall, like what Tahoe has experienced this year.
Those in the flatlands, though, are already delighting in the green hills. Mustard and daffodils are a vibrant yellow, with some already running their course. The almond blossoms are past their peak and will soon be off the trees, ready for the nuts to take hold. Other trees are just beginning to bud.
Spring, outside of snow country, is about life, birth and new beginnings.
The spring equinox in March and autumn equinox in September are the only times when the Northern and Southern hemispheres have essentially equal amounts of day and night.
This is when the sun is directly over the equator, so the earth is not tilting toward or away from the sun.
And it’s the one day when the sunrise will be due east and the sunset due west.
The spring equinox is also known as the vernal equinox.
Paradise embracing a future full of recreation in healthy forests
Paradise is thriving. All one has to do is listen to Dan Efseaff to know this is true.
Efseaff, who has more than 20 years of experience as a restoration ecologist and land manager, is district manager for the Paradise Recreation and Park District. It’s a job he took about 16 months before the devastating 2018 Camp Fire that charred so much of the land that he oversees.
In January he led a group of curious people through several of the parks in his district. This was one of the field trips during the annual Snow Goose Festival of the Pacific Flyway. Most of us on the expedition were from Butte County, though one couple was from Davis and one woman was from the Bay Area.
Efseaff is a believer in defensible, saying that is why the Terry Ashe Recreation Center in the middle of town survived.
As his department works on plans for what the park system will look like in the coming years, Efseaff wants to create “buffers” that will ideally lessen the impact of future fires. These can be hardscapes, and include ridding an area of flammable invasive plants as well as trimming up ladder fuels.
Fire management comes in many forms, with the rec department an advocate for using goats to munch down flammable flora. March 25 marks the second annual Paradise Grazing Festival.
A pavilion stands at Bille Park that during the Camp Fire became a shelter for about 100 people from the neighborhood. People eventually broke into the building where they were protected from the 50 mph winds, and 70 mph gusts.
“There are a lot of things we can do infrastructure-wise in the future. We need to think how else we would use buildings beyond their main purpose,” Efseaff said.
Bille Park in some ways is more like a traditional city park, though parts of it are rugged—because, well, that’s the natural landscape. By fall a new trail to a grotto should be finished. An ADA compliant trail will be built to a lookout over the canyon where a house once sat. The woman who lost her home left the parcel to the park district with the belief, according to Efseaff, that everyone should enjoy that view.
Paradise represents only 10 percent of the park district, according to Efseaff. His staff is responsible for 172 square miles, with acreage going almost to Stirling City, so it includes Magalia, out to Concow and borders Chico.
At the next stop we see an abundance of serpentine rock, California’s state rock. This is off Coutolenc Road. The green reminds me a bit of sandstone in color, but it’s nothing like it in composition.
We cross the street where we can see the Magalia Reservoir and dam. The goal is that Lake Ridge Park (the name may change) will be built in 2027-28. Plans are for it to have a ballpark, welcome center, bike course, ziplines, and more than 15 miles of trails that loop out to Paradise Lake.
Expansion of the old Butte County railway into a multi-use trail is on the district’s master plan.
Coutolenc Park is the largest undeveloped park the district manages. It’s just a bunch of trees, many of them burned. The potential for miles and miles of trails is intriguing. It might be worth coming back with a mountain bike, especially an e-bike.
The district owns this 330-acre park through a land patent with the Bureau of Land Management. This means the BLM retained the timber and mining rights. That in part is why it looks the way it does–like a ravaged, unkempt forest.
“They left us a mess,” Efseaff said. “We will clean it up. We will probably do a broadcast burn in the next year with torches. We need to get this burned and make it a healthy forest.” He was pointing to the growth of flammables like ceanothus and manzanita.
“I’d like to see it go from a conifer to an oak forest that is maintained by fire,” he said. “Within 20 years this could be a healthy forest, a park-like setting.”
Efseaff is a believer that fire is good. Just not fire that burns hot and out of control like the wildfires that have engulfed so much of the state in the last few years. Managed fire, that’s what his department embraces.
At Paradise Lake, not far up the road from Coutolenc Park, are more opportunities for the park district. It has only recently been responsible for recreation here.
Creating event camping and expanding kayaking opportunities are on the drawing board. The old caretaker’s house will be repurposed for public use.
Throughout the excursion Efseaff was always hopeful of what the charred and not burned lands will look like in the future. The array of planned trails should make any outdoor enthusiast ecstatic. It was encouraging to hear about a vision focused on the future and life after destruction.