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  • Kent Porter / AP

    File - In this Jan. 14, 2014 file photo, Hugh Beggs of Santa Rosa, Calif., searches for coins in the middle of the Russian River at Healdsburg Veterans Memorial Beach in Healdsburg, Calif., taking advantage of the way below normal river flow. Seventeen rural communities in drought-stricken California are in danger of running out of water within four months, according to a list compiled by state officials. Wells are running dry or reservoirs are nearly empty in some communities. Others have long-running problems that predate the drought. The communities range from the area covered by the tiny Lompico County Water District in Santa Cruz County to the cities of Healdsburg and Cloverdale in Sonoma County. (AP Photo/ Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Kent Porter, File)

  • Paul Kitagaki Jr. / pkitagaki@sacbee.com

    A fisherman motors his boat on the drought-drained Ice House Reservoir on Monday in El Dorado County. A market that relaxes environmental protections while allowing cities and towns to purchase additional water can spread and ease the pain of the drought, the authors argue.

Q&A: Bee reporters answer readers’ drought questions

Published: Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014 - 9:19 pm
Last Modified: Thursday, Feb. 6, 2014 - 10:34 pm

The Bee launched its “Water Question of the Day” feature last week, giving readers the opportunity to ask our team of reporters questions about water and California’s drought. The team – reporters Matt Weiser, Debbie Arrington and Phillip Reese – will answer a question a day online, Monday through Friday, and we’ll reprint the information in this space on Mondays. Submit your questions at sacbee.com/water.

What is the average water use of a Sacramento-area golf course? How does that break down to gallons daily and yearly? – Ben Baity, Grass Valley

According to studies by the United States Golf Association, the average California golf course uses 250 to 450 acre-feet of water per year, depending on location. Irrigating greens and turfgrass nine to 10 months a year, most Sacramento courses would land somewhere in the middle of that wide range.

Most local facilities irrigate about 80 acres of turfgrass, including greens, roughs and fairways, on a 100-acre, 18-hole course.

One acre foot – 1 acre of ground covered by water 1 foot deep – represents 326,000 gallons. If a course averages 250 acre feet per year, that adds up to 81.5 million gallons per year, or about 223,300 per day.

That’s less per square foot than the average household lawn, which is irrigated on average 1 inch per week. At that same rate, 80 acres would take almost 113 million gallons per year.

Most area golf courses have worked to cut down on water use by recycling water, using holding ponds, retrofitting irrigation systems and switching to drought-tolerant grasses. It pays off in more than water savings. A recent USGA study showed one course in Santa Clara County saved more than $300,000 a year by cutting its water use 20 percent.

– Debbie Arrington

With the drought conditions, requirements to reduce water use and especially how low Folsom Lake is, will someone research and explain why they are releasing water at Nimbus Dam? – Lilly Jarusevicius, Orangevale

Water must be released downstream of Nimbus Dam for a number of reasons. Chief among them is the fact that the city of Sacramento has water rights in the American River that are legally superior to most water rights upstream and also predate construction of the dams. Without water releases from Nimbus, the city of Sacramento would be cut off from this supply.

Another reason is that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which owns both dams, is required to release a certain amount of water at all times to support fish life in the river. This includes young fall-run Chinook salmon about to hatch in the river now, and Central Valley steelhead that are now spawning.

Also, Reclamation sells American River water under contract to farms and cities in the San Joaquin Valley. Although some of these water deliveries can be reduced or cut completely (and have been in the past), Reclamation is still legally bound to release water for the first two reasons.

– Matt Weiser

With Folsom Lake so low, and so much of its area exposed, is this an opportunity to remove dirt on a large scale to increase water storage? – Bob Jones, Folsom

Well, it is an opportunity, but it isn’t likely to happen. One reason is that the reservoir has not filled with sediment as much as people might think. Although almost 60 years have passed since the dam was completed in 1955, erosion rates in the Sierra Nevada watershed seem to be low because of the relatively hard, granitic soils.

Some reservoirs on coastal streams, with more erosive soils, have filled with significant amounts of sediment. Some of those dams are even being removed to address the problem. But the last sediment survey at Folsom, completed in 2005 by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, found that only 4.3 percent of its capacity had been lost due to sedimentation.

Another reason is that removing sediment is not an easy task. It would require many man-hours over a vast work area to make even a small dent. Reclamation, which owns and operates the dam, has no plans to do this work. “The amount of soil and rock that would need to be moved would not produce a significant enough storage increase in the lake to equal the overall cost of excavation,” Reclamation spokesman Louis Moore said via email.

– Matt Weiser

Read more articles by Bee Metro Staff



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