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Oroville Dam: Recreation along Feather River suffers while DWR surveys

By Risa Johnson,, @risamjohnson on Twitter

Yuba City >> Politicians and river guides are calling upon the state Department of Water Resources to mitigate sediment build up in the Feather River following the Oroville Dam crisis.

James Stone, president of the Nor-Cal Guides and Sportsmen’s Association, said sediment is a long-standing issue in this section of the river but that this was the worst year so far, by far. Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, and Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Red Bluff, have also worked with the association and brought attention to the issue, recently lobbying for action in Washington, D.C.

During the spillway crisis, the river flow was dropped abruptly several times, leading to deposits falling to the bottom of the river and solidifying, Stone said. Now there are large mounds of sand where there were traditionally deep channels, he said.

Erin Mellon, assistant director of public affairs, said releases were all in compliance with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers guidelines.

At the Yuba City boat launch ramp off Second Street, Stone pointed to a sandbar inhabited by birds, which he said shouldn’t be there. Though the salmon season isn’t over yet, he has been out of work since early October because of the river conditions.

Because the river is so low, boats can’t launch from anywhere in the county, meaning hundreds of other fishing guides are out of work with lost clients who could be spending money in the county’s hotels, restaurants and businesses, he said.

“They’ve killed our recreation,” Stone said.

A shallower body of water makes it unsafe for boats and harder for fish to pass through. As the river widens — and Stone said it is now the widest he’s seen it — added pressure on levees is a concern.

“If you have a narrow channel that’s deep and you do irresponsible water management, which they did on those heavy drops, the banks fall in, and the banks fall in and the banks fall in,” he said. “So the river gets wider and shallower.”

Stone questioned the accuracy of previous studies of the river’s depths but said dredging as soon as possible is a higher priority for him.

“All my membership wants is to see is people be held accountable for what they’re doing,” he said.

The state Department of Water Resources is currently assessing the impacts of sediment on the river system, with the study expected to be complete in December, said Jon Ericson, acting division chief for the division of flood management. So far, DWR surveys have not shown there is added pressure on levees because of the sediment, Ericson said. 

“Initial results are showing that the river does have flood flow conveyance capacity,” he said. “It is designed to flow levee-to-levee. The capacity goes from 100,000 to over 300,000 (cubic-feet per second) capacity.”

He said the sediment scour and depositions in the Feather River were similar to that of the Sacramento River, adding that the region Stone was talking about was a low-flow channel.

“(What we’re) seeing is the result of a natural river system,” Ericson said.

Contact reporter Risa Johnson at 896-7763.

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