Perhaps it is because the world has grown habituated to its unique set of "liquidity" problems, but California's record, and ongoing, drought has not been receiving much media coverage in recent weeks. Perhaps it should be, because according to a report by CBS Sacramento, the mystery that recently surrounded the water levels at Lake Mead and Lake Powell, has spilled over to a water reservoir in Northern California.
As CBS reports, the Mountain Meadows reservoir also known as Walker Lake, a popular fishing hole just west of Susanville, ran dry literally overnight, killing thousands of fish and leaving residents looking for answers.
The unprecedented emptying of the lake has stunned locals: residents say people were fishing on the lake last Saturday, but it drained like a bathtub overnight.
The reservoir before:
"Everywhere that you see that’s wet, there was water," said resident Eddie Bauer. Bauer has lived near this lake his entire life. This is the first time he’s ever seen it run dry. He and other residents want answers.
Pacific Gas & Electric Company owns the rights to the water and uses it for hydroelectric power.
According to the Sac Bee, the reservoir is the upper-most storage facility in PG&E’s Feather River hydroelectric system, and has been operating at below the minimum requirements since August, said Ron Lunder, chairman of the Mountain Meadows Conservancy, a Westwood-based nonprofit organization.
What little water remained on the morning of Sept. 13 is gone. Along with leaving large-mouth bass and other non-native fish belly up, a swift drawdown dumped silt and rotting fish into Hamilton Branch, a stream that connects Mountain Meadows reservoir with Lake Almanor.
“Something went haywire,” said Aaron Seandel, chairman of a water quality committee that has been monitoring the water levels in Lake Almanor for 25 years.
Bauer blames the local electric company: he says there should’ve been at least two weeks of water left and that would’ve given PG&E enough time to relocate the fish. "This makes me feel like they didn’t want to do a fish rescue and that it was easier to open that sucker up Saturday night," Bauer said.
However, PG&E denies responsibility and says nobody opened the dam up: instead the "water simply ran out."
PG&E spokesman Paul Moreno said an outlet valve at the dam has been continuously clogged, requiring maintenance as often as twice a day to release water downstream through Hamilton Branch to Lake Almanor. Company officials consulted with “the relevant agencies” and decided not to stop further flows out of the dam, he said.
"It’s a very flat, very shallow reservoir. At some point it was going to go dry," he said. And so it did. Overnight.
No matter who’s to blame, residents here worry, this could happen in other areas of the state. “The reservoirs are all continuing to be far below normal,” said Doug Carlson with the Department of Water Resources. He says there’s no question water concerns are still a serious issue across the state.
“We are reliant upon rainfall to fill those lakes of course and until we get more rain we’re not likely to see any appreciable increase in the reservoir levels,” he said.
As for the fate of all the water at the Mountain Meadows reservoir, it remains a mystery.