USGS keeps watchful eye on Sacramento waterways after series of storms

As a series of storms continued to push through Northern California on Thursday, officials with the United States Geological Survey said they were keeping a close eye on the amount of water passing through Sacramento-area waterways.

The most recent data from the science agency showed that the American River downstream from Nimbus Dam was flowing at 60,000 cubic feet per second – the highest flow rate measured there in 20 years, said USGS hydrologist Jeff Kitchen.

“That’s a significant amount of water and far more than we usually see,” Kitchen said.

Kitchen and USGS crews met Thursday at the agency’s Fair Oaks monitoring station, across the river from the Nimbus Fish Hatchery. The river crashed in waves as it flowed past.

The measurements taken there become part of the agency’s National Water Information System, which the public can access online at

Kitchen said the USGS water data are crucial for decision-making across state agencies. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation looks at the Fair Oaks data to decide how much water to release from the Nimbus and Folsom dams. The measurements also provide National Weather Service employees real-time stream and river conditions to help issue flood warnings.

“As the water rises and falls, we’re measuring that change,” Kitchen said.

Jason Fareira, a scientific aide for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said he uses the USGS website daily to gather information on the flow, depth and temperature of the American River. He said the information helps him determine how changes over time could affect the habitat of local wildlife.

The high flows and fast-moving currents in the American River on Thursday had the potential of washing out salmon egg nests at the bottom of the river, Fareira said.

“What we’re worried about is called scouring,” he said. “That’s when the water washes out the bottom.”

Nashelly Chavez: 916-321-1188, @nashellytweets

Related stories from Sacramento Bee