Speculation has been swirling in McCloud coffee houses and on Facebook about the cause of low water levels this summer at McCloud Reservoir, and the situation has raised concerns about the adverse effects it has on tourism.
PG&E spokesperson Paul Moreno said the cause is not a leak or valve damage – as has been speculated – but an intentional lowering of the water level so they can dredge up a sandbar and get the powerhouse back in operation.
The McCloud Reservoir was at the 99 percent full mark (2,678 feet above sea level) in late May and early June. But due to the heavy rains and snowfall last winter, larger amounts of sand, rocks and gravel that are carried down streams caused a buildup at the Pit 5 powerhouse by Big Bend, creating a sandbar at the tailrace (where the water shoots out of the powerhouse to help generate electricity).
“To get the powerhouse back in operation, we need to dredge up the sandbar,” said Moreno. “We have been drawing down the McCloud Reservoir levels since late May/early June. We need to not have any water flow to complete this operation.”
Moreno said the reservoir was expected to reach a low point Aug. 13, at an elevation of about 2,649 feet, which is 60 percent full and about 4 feet above its minimum operating level of 2,645 feet.
At that point, according to Moreno, they’ll stop running water out of the James B. Black Powerhouse, which is above the Pit 5 powerhouse, “so the reservoir level will begin to rise, approaching the near full mark by late September, when we expect to finish dredging and will again be operating the James B. Black Powerhouse.”
He said the reservoir levels will always be within the normal range of operations. “By doing this, we can avoid spilling McCloud Reservoir, which would greatly increase flows on the Lower McCloud River, which is very popular for fishing and other recreation in summer. The river is naturally lower this time of year, but we have had a wet year... The Iron Canyon reservoir will also reach a low point for the year at the same time and will begin refilling on a parallel path in the same time frame.”
Even though the reservoir is still available for boating, many boaters have been frustrated with the low levels.
“If there is a problem, they should fix it and fill it up again,” said local outdoor enthusiast Randy Ives. “The levels are like in October. We are losing tourism because it is so low. We only have a window for skiing in the summer, unlike fishermen. I have friends who won’t take their boats down there because the water is so low this time of year. It is okay for kayaks, but not for boats.”