OROVILLE – Flanked by a hazy backdrop of Lake Oroville with the Dixie Fire nearby creating a smoke-filled sky, federal and state politicians representing the northern state gathered above the Hyatt power station at the dam Oroville for a press conference Tuesday to criticize, in their words, the state’s “flagrant mismanagement” of water, wild lands and electricity.
Congressman Doug LaMalfa (R-Richvale), Assembly Member James Gallagher (R-Yuba City), State Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Tehama) and Oroville Mayor Chuck Reynolds all spoke to the assembled media, a handful of supporters and a few protesters, frequently pointing to the barren lake below them to illustrate their concerns over the worsening drought.
Just an hour before the press conference began, Lake Oroville dropped to its lowest level since September 1977, measuring less than 643.5 feet above sea level at 10 a.m.
“We stand here in a brown air and an empty lake because of the terrible policies put in place by officials in Sacramento,” LaMalfa said. “More and more water is passing through our system here, directly through the delta to the ocean, and becoming salt water that we cannot use due to environmental issues that have gotten out of hand.”
“Two years ago this lake was full,” said Gallagher. “Yes, we had a drought. Yes, we have less runoff this year due to climate change. But you shouldn’t see a lake this low after two years of drought.
“It’s because of mismanagement. The water that continues to flow from this reservoir, downstream of the river, into the delta, into the ocean; water that is not usable for farms, for your families, for our cities – and we are being asked to reduce.
Reynolds focused on the local impacts felt on the drop in water levels in Lake Oroville, and in particular, the economic impacts.
“A lot of people come here for this lake. It is the second largest man-made lake in California, ”said Reynolds.
“Tourism stops. It means all the gas stations, stores, restaurants, all of that stuff is not being used by people who don’t come. There are people everywhere, not just in California, in the western United States, who have barges on this lake. Without water, they don’t come to spend money in this city, and it’s hard for this city, it’s hard for struggling businesses.
In addition to the current conditions at Lake Oroville, lawmakers called on Governor Gavin Newsom to use his power to create additional water storage statewide, including the Sites Reservoir, a project in Colusa County estimated at $ 3 billion.
“According to the Joint Powers Authority, it may take another six years to get water to the Sites reservoir. This is unacceptable, ”Nielsen said.
Not all participants agreed with the views of lawmakers. Before the press conference began, Gallagher was confronted by two protesters, Megan Brown, a sixth generation rancher in Butte County, and Lindsay Briggs, a Chico State professor, about the ongoing discussions. around the Miocene Canal, which was damaged by recent forest fires in Butte County and cut off the water supply to area residents, including Brown.
While holding a sign reading “All Fire, No Water #MicoeneCanal,” Brown asked Gallagher why the canal had not yet been repaired and said the congressman had not taken further action on a potential project. Gallagher suggested Brown was lying after saying the reps didn’t work on it.
“My six generations of breeding are gone. I’m going to be the last – the last breeder, ”said Brown.
“We have been working on this issue,” said Gallagher. “It’s not good enough for you – I understand that, but we continue to work on the Miocene regardless … these are the facts.”
LaMalfa and Gallagher also responded to a question about the tangible solutions they are proposing to address the current drought conditions. First, LaMalfa proposed to move the existing water to the left to benefit more human use. Gallagher said “much of the damage has already been done,” but suggested voluntary agreements on water and the construction of additional storage facilities, such as Reservoir Sites.
“None of them have been done yet,” Gallagher said. “Gavin Newsom could do a lot to move these projects forward. He has the power to do it. He did not resist bureaucracy and vested interests, and that is why we are in this situation.
Responding to remarks from lawmakers on Tuesday, Lisa Lien-Mager, assistant secretary of communications for the state’s Natural Resources Agency, said climate change was at the root of most “interconnected” problems including Lawmakers spoke on Tuesday, and conditions are tougher in 2021 than expected.
“Climate change brings multiple threats to California and the west this summer, including wildfires, extreme heat, low reservoir levels and a stressed power grid,” Lien-Mager said in an email. to this log. “It is clear that climate impacts have accelerated, and we are seeing more severe conditions in 2021 than any modeling predicted. These challenges are interconnected, and state agencies are working intensively in cooperation with the legislature and local, tribal and federal partners to address urgent needs while continuing to build climate resilience. “