Residents concerned about Bucks Lake water management
If the water level of Bucks Lake dips down to 5,134 feet, the two marinas on the lake will be forced to close up shop.
That’s what Ken Nelson, owner of Haskins Valley Inn, Store and Deli said last week. At that depth, the water is too shallow for boats to moor.
Nelson’s daughter and son-in-law, Kim and DeWitt Henderson, own and operate the two businesses on the lake: Bucks Lake Marina and the Restaurant and Store at Lakeshore Resort.
Both marinas are restricted by the low water level, which Nelson says is the lowest since 1976. Some docks at the Lakeshore already can’t be rented, Nelson said.
And the water level keeps dropping. He said that every week, PG&E, which manages the lake as an energy source for its Bucks Creek Powerhouse, releases a few inches of water, as mandated, to keep Bucks Creek flowing.
Nelson said an economic survey conducted in 1985 showed that Bucks Lake businesses and recreational use generated $13 million in revenue for the county – albeit mostly for Quincy.
But now? Nelson said that the last two years were bad ones for businesses. This past winter there was so little snow that snowmobilers were severely limited and barely able to ride. He said last fall saw an early end to its boating season because of a 20,000 acre-foot draw down by PG&E last September and October.
That 20,000 feet is normally split between Lake Almanor and Bucks Lake, he said. But not last fall. Nelson said one of the five powerhouses that generates electricity from Almanor water was shut down. That means PG&E wouldn’t be able to generate as much power as it could with all of its plants operating.
Additionally, Nelson said that Bucks Creek Powerhouse has a greater capacity to generate electricity than powerhouses that utilize Lake Almanor’s water, on account of the head, or distance the water drops.
As a businessman, Nelson said he recognizes that PG&E needs to make money. But so do Bucks Lake and the county.
Nelson said that two weeks ago PG&E ran a powerhouse, despite telling him and other concerned residents that they wouldn’t.
“They’ll put us out of business,” he said. “They’re just not being honest.”
Nelson suggested putting restrictions in the FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) license that PG&E is in the process of renewing. He said there have to be some guidelines that protect Bucks Lake businesses and residents.
Nelson acknowledged that the scant snowpack last winter and the winter before caused the lake level to drop. He said runoff from a typical winter generates about 70 – 80,000 acre-feet of water, which refills the lake each spring.
But the last couple years have left levels much lower than normal, and as what little runoff there is declines, the lake level will too.
Paul Moreno, PG&E news representative, had a different story to tell.
He said PG&E did not draw water off the lake last week. He said the company has only briefly released water for power generation at Bucks Creek Powerhouse twice this year: during a Flex Alert in February and a heat wave June 9.
Moreno said, in a normal year, PG&E would be generating power much of the time. But in an effort to keep Bucks Lake as full as it is, they have reduced the runoff considerably.
PG&E is required by its FERC license to maintain a minimum in-stream flow to Bucks Creek. And depending on several factors, including the level of Bucks Lake and the level of Lower Bucks Lake, the draft could result in a noticeable drop.
“We have been doing a lot to keep Bucks Lake as full as possible, but simply put, the drought means less runoff into this lake and practically all others in California,” Moreno said.
“We have also not ever stated we would not generate power when needed. Bear in mind that Bucks Lake was built for power generation and we will be having to draw on hydro resources this summer to meet demand for power.
“We also provided lake level projections, which were as accurate as we could make them at the time,” he said. “ But unfortunately we had less runoff in May and June so water levels have dropped a bit.”
Moreno said the lake level is currently about 1,700 acre-feet lower (12 inches) than forecast at Bucks, and 7,300 acre-feet lower (4 inches) at Almanor.
Moreno said there is “no correlation” between the need to rotate operations between Upper North Fork Feather River and Bucks facilities. Most years PG&E takes between 16,000 – 34,000 acre-feet of water in the fall. They reduce the water levels in both lakes to allow for spring runoff. He said last fall they took 17,500 from Bucks.
He said that the April - June runoff into Bucks Lake will probably be the lowest since 1977.
Moreno noted that at the end of June 2001 the lake was at 71 TAF (thousand acre feet) – like this year. Other low water years at the end of June were 1988 at 69 TAF, 1985 at 67 TAF and 1977 at 51 TAF.
Lake levels for Bucks and Almanor can be found weekly in the front sections of the Feather Publishing’s newspapers.