Lake McClure is at extremely low water levels

A North Valley reservoir is near record low, which could hurt growers in the year ahead. But it's also exposing an historic dam that's normally under water.
December 23, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
A North Valley reservoir is near record low, which could hurt growers in the year ahead. But it's also exposing an historic dam that's normally under water.

Two dry years have left Lake McClure in Mariposa County extremely low right now. And it's feared, the problem could get worse.

In the video, these pictures show the original Exchequer Dam, built back in the 1920's. The concrete arch was covered by water in the late 60's when a new dam was built. But now it's once again visible because of the drought.

Mike Jensen said, "As you can see behind us, we have a very empty lake. Normally where we're standing it would be under water in a typical water year. The last time it was visible was in 2008."

Mike Jensen is the public and government relations officer for the Merced Irrigation District, which owns the dams and the Lake McClure Reservoir. He gave us a tour of the area, along with Merced City Councilman Josh Pedrozo.

"I don't think you can really take into account how dire the situation it is until you actually see how low it is," said Pedrozo.

Lake McClure can hold more than one million acre feet of water, but right now it's at just 235 thousand. The Merced Irrigation District is concerned that could mean another year of low allocations for the growers who rely on the reservoir to irrigate their crops. And Jensen says the situation could get worse because the state water resources board has proposed releasing more water into the Merced River to protect salmon.

Jensen added, "This would be an empty reservoir in meeting those requirements, so it's something we're very concerned about and watching closely."

The Merced Irrigation District is also worried more growers will dig wells, which depletes limited ground water and can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Pedrozo comes from a family of dairy farmers and says the strain on the ag industry ultimately hurts everyone.

Pedrozo explained, "It's a multiplier effect where if a farmer doesn't have money to spend, they can't put product on to the market, the consumer can't buy it, then you're really in a bind."


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