Friday, March 11, 2016

THE RISE OF THE TIDE: THE RELIEF OF EL NINO

 
The rain has pounded against my window this week, leaving drops of water forming tiny rivers streaking across the glass pane. Each drop is deeper and wider than the last. The storms seem almost endless now after nearly five years of drought. The “Godzilla” El Niño which has formed in the western Pacific has sent one rain event after another into northern California much the delight of the kayaking and paddling community.

A parade of storms have continued to soak the Sacramento valley and pile up snow in the Sierra. Folsom Lake is rising so fast that,  the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages Folsom Dam, opened the floodgates for the first time since May 2012 allowing a huge waterfall to spill down the face of the dam. The releases are necessary to deal with the runoff from this past weekend's storm and another expected wet weather system in the forecast. Bureau official Shane Hunt told the Sacramento Bee,  that dam operators will continue to watch storm-waters flowing into the lake as the week progresses. “We’ll see how it plays out,” he said. “We may adjust up or down.”

Downstream from Folsom Dam and Nimbus Dam, the Sacramento police helicopter warned campers along the American River Parkway to consider moving to higher ground. Sacramento County officials were considering closing some parkway access points because of flooding concerns.
"Water levels on area waterways can rise very, very quickly if they start letting extra water out of the dam," Sacramento Fire Department spokesperson Chris Harvey told FOX 40 News, "Were advising people to use a lot of caution."

Veteran area paddler Mike Rumsey agrees, "The guy in the rec boat with his dog, short sleeves, shirts and no PFD might disagree with me." said Rumsey,  "But yeah it dangerous! Fast cold water.  A few years back when I was new to serious kayaking we did a trip from Sunrise to Miller Park on the Sacramento. The river was at 10,000 cfs going through Ardent Bar Rapid. The last guy in our group of three went over in his sea kayak. We hurried and did a assistance rescue, got him back in his boat let him go. A log sticking out then clunk he's broadside with the log trying to hang on. By the time my other partner got to shore and out of his boat, the guy on the log had went under. Good thing there were no branches on that log. That's a river you got to give major respect."

PHOTO BY PETE DELOSA
Upstream where the north and middle forks of the American River meet near Auburn, paddlers admired the raging whitewater. "I finally got to do the run below the confluence and experience the Gay Wave." said Team Pyrnaha's Pete Delosa, "Unbelievable world class surf wave down there. I may have a chance to get on Traverse Creek for the first time. Super stoked to fall off that waterfall. I've been wanting to do it for years but it only runs during rain events like this one. I'm supposed to drive to Washington for a race that could get cancelled because flows are too high. It's nice to cancel because it's high rather than too low which has happened to me a couple time in the past few years."

With all this water, experts still say,  California has seen only an average amount of precipitation this year. “February was incredibly warm and dry,” says David Pierce, a researcher at Scripps Institute of Oceanography told The Atlanitc, “If you look at the curves of El Niño, February to April is when we see rainy years differentiate themselves. It’s already March. There’s another six weeks of wet season, then that’s all she wrote.” The rain totals have differed throughout the state. Northern California has had a great year, while the southern part of the state still seems gripped by drought.

This year's Sierra snow pack should offer some banked up moisture. Melting snow accumulated through the winter slowly released through the dry spring and summer will keep those rivers running and filling the upper reservoirs. The snow pack had been doing well. At the end of January, it sat at 110 percent of normal, but in February sank to 80 percent,  according to Pierce.  However, this weekend, another storm is expected to drop an extra two to three feet of snow above 4,000 feet, putting the snow pack above normal again.

PHOTO BY KATHY MORRISON
That's good news for paddlers this summer with those once thirsty rivers are flowing again in northern California. "Heck yeah I'm stoked about the up coming season." said Rumsey,  "I spent most my river time on the South Fork. It hasn't had water like this since I started paddling. It's looking like water all year as long as there are no warm storms melt the snow pack. This season were going to step it up."

"From a business perspective I hope this rain means more people are going to be able to get out more often." said DeLosa, "I hope people who are not yet paddlers will see the opportunity to get involved in this outdoor community.  New paddlers coming in and taking lessons and experienced paddlers excited about the upcoming season buying new gear are both good for the industry and the community can't survive with out the industry any more than the industry can survive with out the community. I'm personally looking forward to helping folks progress their skills this spring. I hope to see a lot of people taking on new challenges and having success with all this water."