Last weekend I joined a group of over 30 people from a variety of professions and occupations in San Diego County participating in an inspection trip of the California State Water Project and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Our visit came just as a major storm had finished moving through the area Feb 26-27. It was nice to see lots of fresh snow accumulating in the Sierras.
The two-day educational trip was sponsored by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and hosted by the San Diego County Water Authority. The tour helped us gain a deeper appreciation of the complex system that supplies much of Southern California and gives San Diego about a third of its water (the Colorado River is the other primary source of our imported water) and a better understanding of the challenges faced by the system. The Delta plays a critically important role for California’s economy and energy and water, but for many San Diegans it’s a faraway place and easy to take for granted, so these informative tours provide a valuable experience that locals should take advantage of.
After our flight to Sacramento, we boarded a bus for a trip north to the Oroville Reservoir and dam. Oroville, on the Feather River, is the main water source for the State Water Project and is thus an important place for San Diegans to keep an eye on. Snow was visible in the nearby hills and it was quite chilly.
Oroville Dam is the tallest dam in the United States — nearly as high as the Eiffel Tower — and can hold about 3 1/2 million acre feet of water and is the fourth-largest source of hydroelectric power in California. Oroville’s reservoir level had been dropping alarmingly over the past few years but with the wet storms that we’ve had this season the reservoir is well over half-full and still filling.
During our bus ride, Phyllis Ortman from Metropolitan and Keith Lewinger from the County Water Authority plied us with details about environmental, political, legal, and logistical factors in the management of the Delta and the State Water Project. Phyllis is apparently well-known for having lots of handouts and it’s a good thing we were given sturdy bags to carry them all!
After lunch we took a brief drive across the dam and proceeded to a tour of the nearby Feather River Fish Hatchery where we saw a barrier dam, fish ladder, rearing raceways, and other mitigation facilities for spawning salmon and steelhead trout.
You can click any of the following photos for an enlargement.