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Slowdown on Folsom Lake Anticipated As Water Level Drops

July 21, 2008

By Niesha Lofing, The Sacramento Bee, Calif.

Jul. 21–As the water gets shallower, the boats must go slower.

That’s the reality at Folsom Lake as dam releases that exceed inflow from the reservoir’s water sources draw down lake volume and make cruising on the shrinking surface less safe.

State park officials, noting the lake elevation dropping to near 400 feet above sea level, are anticipating having to set a 5 mph speed limit on the man-made lake that, when water is abundant, is a playground for fast boats, skiers, wake boarders and jet skis.

The new speed limit hasn’t yet taken effect, but Folsom Lake State Recreation Area officials probably will enact it within the next day or two, a state parks employee said.

The lake level today is hovering over 400 feet in elevation at 400.61, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. The lake is considered to be full when its surface elevation reaches 466 feet.

Lake depth varies, with its deepest points being near the center of the reservoir. As the elevation falls, the depth also diminishes, with shallow water replacing the depth needed for fast-paced water sports

“Staying toward the center is always going to be safer,” said Louis Moore, spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Low water caused all boats to be removed from marinas on the lake by July 2, far earlier than usual. The lake has been ope for day use to boaters who launch their boats at ramps around the lake.

Fewer boaters headed to the lake Saturday and Sunday because of a rumor swirling around that the speed limit had already taken effect, said Tom Lakes, a Folsom Lake Marina clerk.

“A lot of people thought it would be their last weekend before the speed limit,” he said, noting that the lake has no speed limit most of the year.

The slowdown isn’t bad news for all lake users.

“Fisherman don’t seem to mind it too bad,” Lakes said.

The low lake levels may start to affect access points, Moore said.

Only two boat ramps remain open, the Hobie ramp at Brown’s Ravine and the Granite Bay Stage 1 ramp at Granite Bay, and the Granite Bay ramp probably will close by Tuesday or Wednesday, Moore said.

The bottom ramp elevation for the Granite Bay ramp is 400 feet, while Brown’s Ravine’s bottom ramp elevation is 380 feet.

Moore said obligations and demands downstream, coupled with a dry year in the Sierra, are contributing to the low lake level.

“In a normal year, a wet year, we have a substantial amount of snow pack,” he said.

That runoff provides the needed “immediate and interim water supply” until snow melts during warmer months refill the reservoir, Moore said.

Today, water is flowing into the reservoir from mountain runoff, tributaries and rivers at 1,300 cubic feet per second (CFS), but leaving at 3,000 CFS to meet demands downstream.

Water is released from the reservoir for drinking water and flood control and to meet agricultural, municipal and industrial needs. Releases also are used to help control water quality, he said.

“If we have a storm at sea and it pushes saltwater upstream, the releases hold the saltwater at bay,” Moore said.

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Sacramento Bee, Calif.

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