Fallen trees and debris are clogging the Mokelumne River, and Woodbridge Irrigation District Manager Andy Christensen, along with property owners along the river, are pointing the finger at the East Bay Municipal Utility District.
According to Christensen, during the heavy 2016-17 flood year, EBMUD made releases out of the Camanche Dam that were right up to their allowable limit of 5,000 cubic feet per second, which knocked several trees and debris into the river and caused damage to surrounding properties .
“There has been a lot of damage to the river,” Christensen said. “On the west and south banks of the river, as it goes through the golf course and all the way down to Peltier Road, we’ve lost a lot of the shading trees that were in there.”
According to EBMUD spokesperson Alison Kastama, there was quite a lot of precipitation that required that amount of water to be released, and It would’ve had to be released at some point in time. It’s very hard to predict how much rainfall and precipitation will happen, and so at anytime when they’re releasing that high level 5,000 cfs that’s challenging but it is something that the river can hold, Kastama said.
The stretch of river from Lower Sacramento Road to Peltier Road is clogged with trees and debris breaking down the capacity of the river, and a tree blocking the river has caused a sand bar to form below the Woodbridge Dam altering water flow, Christensen said. With the restricted river flows and reduction in shade, he worries about how fish will be affected.
“It’s looks like this year with the reservoirs that are full above us, that we may have high flood flow conditions similar to that of 2016,” Christensen said.
If the dam goes up to 5,000 cfs again in the fall and winter, Christensen is worried it could cause more damage to the river and potential flooding of the land downstream from the Woodbridge Dam.
Since the damage from last time, no one has done anything to remove the blockages from the river and Christensen feels as though EBMUD make the effort to help clean it up. He suggested they form a clean program where they go in and selectively remove the fallen trees and debris that are blocking river flows. While the Camanche Dam has a 5,000 cfs release capability, the river cannot handle that kind of flow under its current condition unless it is maintained, Christensen said.
However Kastama said its hard to necessarily assume that trees fell just because of the releases, and the responsibility of the clean up ultimately falls on the owners of the property from which the trees fell. There is a lot of permitting required to do clean up on the river, and EBMUD has met with property owners along the river to assist with the permitting process, she said.
“That wet winter leading into 2017, last January, February and March, we had one of largest amounts of precipitation on record, so we did in fact operate within the parameters of that flow control operation and allowed releases that were necessary to continue the flood protection downstream,” Kastama said.
According to Kastama, EBMUD did a great deal to notify property owners along the river and alert them to the releases.
“We really do want people to know that we’re operating there as a benefit to those downstream property owners,” Kastama said. “Having that reservoir is basically enabling us to smooth the impact of that heavy precipitation because we have possibly 200,000 acred feet of extra storage in that reservoir in order to hold back floodwaters that otherwise would flow down stream.”
Even though EBMUD releases fell within the allowable limit, Lodi resident Jim Eilers, who owns a winery and vineyard 1 mile west of the Woodbridge Dam, felt that it was still too much water to release downstream.
“It’s just too much water to go down the river, and you’ve got way too much debris in the river that kind of dam things up and it doesn’t flow as well,” Eilers said. You just can’t have that 5,000 cfs coming down the Mokelumne River; its not built for that anymore. It can’t handle it, so then it a destroys a crop like mine.”
As a result of the releases, Eilers’s vineyard was flooded. He lost his entire crop which was about $200,000. He was also forced to spend about $75,000 to fix the levees around his property and make repairs. Eilers feels that EBMUD owes all the property owners along the river who suffered damage some sort of reimbursement.
“They owe me something,” he said.
According to Eilers, several 200-year-old trees fell into the river due to the releases. Over the year, releases from the Camanche Dam have flooded him out several times, costing him hundreds of thousands of dollars.