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Parched lake thirsts for rain

By: Don Chaddock, The Telegraph
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Years could pass before drought-parched Folsom Lake is replenished. Experts say the lack of rainfall in the foothills and snowfall in the Sierra means the lake’s level could remain low for longer than previously thought. “It’s going to take quite a bit above normal amounts of rain to fill that reservoir,” said meteorologist Eric Kurtch with the National Weather Service in Sacramento. “We’re well below average and have been for the past two years. It will probably take several wet years to fill it up.” It’s just that concern that has kicked the city of Folsom into overdrive, seeking to tighten water restrictions as the lake continues to dry up with little hope of rapid recovery. Mayor Steve Miklos is asking for patience and cooperation from residents. “As we can see, Folsom Lake is at a record level low, currently at less than 25 percent capacity,” said Miklos. “The Sierra snow pack at this point will not be enough to replenish the reservoirs in this area, including Folsom.” City Councilman Andy Morin said one really good month of precipitation could help the water supply. “That’s the crazy thing about the fickle nature of weather,” Morin said. “It could take years or it could take one month. It depends on the weather patterns.” He said the only real difference between a stage two and three is irrigation. “We try and squeeze a little more water supply out of the existing base of water users,” Morin said. “We try to prepare for the worst and hope for the best.” Residents will be able to water their yards only twice each week rather than the three days they are accustomed to under the current conservation level. When asked about leaks in the water supply system, Miklos said the city is aware of the problem and trying to correct it. “Any city … can lose up to 25 percent of its water through infrastructure (leaks),” Miklos said. “We’re looking to receive grants (for repairs).” Morin said the leaks aren’t just in the infrastructure, but are also from more normal sources. “There’s certainly some aging infrastructure. Down in the historic district, we’re replacing sewer lines and water lines,” he said. “It’s not really (just external) leaks. You can have a lot of internal leaks such as running toilets and dripping faucets. (Soon) we’ll be on water meters and it will make us all more conscientious regarding personal water use.” If precipitation doesn’t improve, Morin expects the city would need to consider raising its water alert level. There are five conservation alert levels and the city is currently at level two, but will go to level three by the end of February. “I would consider high (the possibility of raising the alert level even higher) if we continue dry,” Morin said. “The water allotments out of Folsom Lake (would be) severely cut back. The city of Folsom, like a lot of areas, would be affected.” As of Feb. 3, the lake sat at 377 feet when measured against the dam, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. City Manager Kerry Miller said stage three was going to mean more restrictions on residents. “I’m not sure if you know what a stage three is,” Miller said. “Our water situation is drastic.” Newly elected City Councilman Ernie Sheldon said he’s shocked by how low the lake has dropped. “I’ve been here 23 years and I’ve never seen it this low,” Sheldon said. “I told Kerry Miller we’re probably all going to lose our yards this year (during the summer).” Some water restrictions include using an even/odd watering system, according to Don Smith of the city’s Water Department. “There will be no irrigation (lawn watering) on Monday, Thursday or Friday,” he said. “This with an address that ends in an even number will water on Wednesday and Sunday. Address that end with an odd number will water on Tuesday and Saturday.” He said most of the conservation is common sense. “You know, no free-flowing hoses (should be used) and there will be no emptying and refilling of ponds or pools without the city’s permission,” he said. What does it mean? According to the USBR, the elevation of the lake when measured against the dam reflects "above mean sea level." The crest of the dam is at 480.5 feet and the lake currently sits at 378 feet. The dam's bottom low level outlets are at 205.5 feet, meaning the lake, when full, is roughly 275 feet, according to the USBR. To see all the water restrictions, visit the city of Folsom’s Web site at www.folsom.ca.us or visit www.folsomtelegraph.com.