I first gazed at Folsom Dam and the reservoir behind it in October 2015 and it was a shocking sight. The lake had reached a record low and surrounding communities worried that their water supply would dry up completely. We could see the remnants of historic settlements that had been covered by water for decades. The gigantic reservoir had metamorphosed into a valley of puddles. So when we heard the lake was full again, we had to go and see for ourselves.
On our recent visit, life had returned to Folsom Lake. The boat ramp parking lot, empty in October, was nearly full of cars. Boaters boated and kayakers kayaked. Picnickers picnicked, and runners were coming in from a 50k race. They looked positively nonchalant, as if just running 50k had been a piece of cake, and maybe it had been, for them. I was inspired to race walk a few feet to the parking lot.
The Bureau of Reclamation had posted new signs explaining the new spillway being built for flood control. Locals were grousing that the Army Corps of Engineers was releasing water through the dam for flood control under old rules written in the 1980s when they should be conserving water instead: http://www.sacbee.com/news/state/california/water-and-drought/. Folsom Lake may be meeting its February target, but many other reservoirs in California are still far below typical levels for this time of year. Looks like the promised El Nino this winter is a dud.
As an alternative to getting stuck in traffic on the Bay Bridge on the way home, we decided to take Highway 37 around San Pablo Bay to check out the restored wetlands project there. Highway 37 is still a two-lane road, but traffic was moving steadily on Saturday afternoon. For me, the highlight of this drive is the three big bridges that span the Napa River, Napa Slough and the Petaluma River (it’s really a slough, but was declared a river so the government would have to pay for dredging). You get up high above the wetlands and the bay for an awesome view, but it’s quick because everyone is driving so damn fast!
We pulled off at a newly developed wetland in the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge at Cullinan Ranch. We were greeted by new sign, kayak ramp and fishing piers. We walked a bit on the levee road and could see evidence of the work of volunteers in native plantings along the levee’s bank. Then we got back on the highway hoping to catch a glimpse of the restored Sears Point wetland.
We had taken a wildflower walk with the Sonoma Land Trust folks in 2010 after they had raised nearly $18 million to buy Sears Point Ranch. (We love Sonoma Land Trust and all of its partners in Sonoma County working to conserve and manage land in the public trust!) http://www.sonomalandtrust.org. Last October, after a decade of planning, hundreds of people showed up to watch as the 140-year-old levee was breached creating a new 1,000-acre tidal wetland along the north edge of San Francisco Bay. If you couldn’t be there, you can watch the video here: http://www.sfbayjv.org/project-sears-point-wetland-restoration-san-pablo-bay.php. The photos on the website are much better than what we could see from the highway. Next time we will get closer to Sears Point and walk on the new levee trail there.
By Molly Martin