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What drought?
Tuolumne River continues to rise because of Don Pedro releases
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An excessive amount of water is rushing out of Don Pedro Reservoir to make way for water from a series of January storms and a reminder of how these trailer parks east of the Ninth Street bridge were inundated in the January 1997 floods. - photo by JEFF BENZIGER/Courier photo

There were fears late last week that the stepped-up flows released from Don Pedro Reservoir - ordered to ensure enough water storage for a series of storms hitting the higher elevations - would cause flooding in the Ceres-Modesto area. The Tuolumne River has widened greatly in some areas but so far there is not the eminent threat of flooding like 20 years ago this month when Don Pedro crested and trailer parks along River Road were forced to evacuate.
It's going to be close this go-around.

The water level on the Tuolumne River at the Ninth Street Bridge was 49.9 feet early Tuesday, said the California Department of Water Resources, and may reach 52.2 feet tomorrow or Friday. That leaves only about a safety margin of 33.6 inches before flooding occurs. With weather, nothing is truly predictable but it looks like winds will be more of a problem than rain the next few days. The sun is expected to come out Friday and remain for the weekend.

As of 2 p.m. on Jan. 4 the flow of the river was around 3,000 cubic feet per second at the Ninth Street Bridge. It reached 4,670 CFS Tuesday morning.

The increased releases allow Don Pedro to continue filling without being overfilled. The lake is currently at 84 percent of capacity and tops out at the 830-foot mark. On Dec. 12 Don Pedro was at 772.89 feet; as of Monday was at 802.6 feet and climbing. Releases from Don Pedro peaked at 10,668 CFS on Jan. 6 while reservoir inflow was measured at a rate of 15,398 CFS. Releases from the dam were scaled back but will continue to fluctuate in response to any future storms.

Heavy rainfall has caused a number of rock slides in the area. One was reported on Highway 132 near La Grange Road. The Highway 140 route into Yosemite Valley was blocked by a slide of boulders onto the roadway near El Portal on Thursday. The valley had been evacuated because of flooding but reopened yesterday.

Gov. Jerry Brown's declaration of the state being in a drought has yet to be rescinded even though the recent storms have resulted in approximately 350 billion gallons of water being dumped into the state's biggest reservoirs. Jay Lund, a professor of engineering and director of the Center for Watershed Sciences at UC Davis, said while California will normally be a dry state, there is certainly no drought now and cautioned lawmakers about crying wolf.

"You have to maintain credibility with the public when there are critically dry years, so you have to call it like it is when conditions improve," he told the San Jose Mercury News.

Other local lakes have a way to go before they look remotely filled. New Melones Reservoir on the Stanislaus River is only 31 percent of capacity. The lake tops out at 1,135 feet but on Tuesday had another 230 feet left to be filled.

The Exchequer Reservoir on the Merced River is only 57 percent of capacity.