Managing water in the West is a balancing act. It requires great coordination between our water resources managers and our flood control managers. While the water resources managers must carefully maximize water allocations each year, flood control managers must prepare for worst-case flood scenarios. In California’s Sacramento Valley, we are blessed with rivers and tributaries that provide a multitude of benefits to our agricultural, municipal, and industrial users. Those same rivers, though, can deliver a torrent of flood water in a very short time frame. That is why our region has had and will continue to have a laser-like focus on raising the level of the Sacramento region’s flood protection.
The linchpin to Sacramento’s flood control system is Folsom Dam. As a result of our changing hydrology, the dam and the downstream levees were found to no longer provide the level of protection that they once did, so upgrades and additions were needed. Together, the region decided that the best solution was an almost $1 billion auxiliary spillway, known as the Joint Federal Project (JFP), to be constructed by the Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The new spillway became operational in fall of last year and now provides a way for water managers to release more water from the reservoir earlier in the storm cycle, creating more flexibility and a higher level of flood protection for the Sacramento region.
Combining this new infrastructure with an updated water control manual that incorporates forecast-based decision-making for reservoir operations will give water engineers operating the dam the ability to stay ahead of the curve when a storm is still several days away or, conversely, to retain water if forecasting shows that a storm system is weakening.
The effort to build the JFP and update the dam’s water control manual has been nothing short of exemplary. The project was built ahead of schedule and under budget. I know I speak not only for myself but for all the federal, state, and local partners involved when I say that the JFP is a project that will serve future generations well.
The JFP and the new water control manual are forward-thinking projects that will allow water managers the flexibility they want while providing residents of the floodplain below with the safety they require. More projects with this kind of balanced approach are needed in my region and across the West.
Our river city depends on its levees and always will, so we have taken a holistic approach to our flood basin and are pursuing projects that decrease the pressure on our levees by increasing the size of our flood byways and weirs. Levee improvement projects in Sacramento and West Sacramento that were authorized by the Water Infrastructure Improvements Act in 2016 will not only increase our level of flood protection but will also be more sustainable and benefit the ecosystem they serve.
With California’s boom-or-bust water cycles, it is imperative that we prepare for both eventualities. Our nation has been tested over the last few decades with superstorms of all kinds, and California has certainly had its share. The imperative to plan for the future has never been more urgent, and I look forward to continuing to build a flood control system to serve the Sacramento region in the 21st century.