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Getting Answers: What Do Increased Releases From Folsom Dam Mean For Region's Water Levels?

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Rising river levels? It's been a surprising sight in recent days for people out along the American River.

California is in year three of a severe drought and people are being asked to conserve, but water releases from Folsom Dam are being dramatically increased this week.

Parts of the American River Parkway that had been dry ground just a few days ago are now covered with water, which is something surprising to many people along the shoreline.

Releases from Folsom Dam have nearly doubled in the last week, causing levels on the lower American River to rise a foot and a half.

"There's very little beach left," said Kent Hansen, the president of American River Raft Rentals.

Hansen said it's the highest summer flows he's seen in the last three years.

"We've got at least twice as much water which we're very thankful for," he said.

So why is more water being released when we're still in a drought?

The Bureau of Reclamation, which manages Folsom Dam, said a small portion of the increased water is going to farms and cities downstream. But the majority of the higher flow is to help flush out salt water that is pushing up into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The increased salinity threatens drinking water supplies and other environmental resources.

In past years, some of that freshwater had come from lakes in the north state, but Shasta Lake is currently only 50 percent of its average and Lake Oroville is only 64 percent, while Folsom Lake is at 107 percent.

"So Folsom is in a unique position to provide that water for delta salinity," Hansen said.

The Bureau of Reclamation said it's just a coincidence that the higher flows are being released over the holiday weekend, creating prime conditions for recreation on the river.

"We're like farmers," Hansen said. "It's all about the weather and the water, and right now, it couldn't be more perfect."

Flows on the lower American River are forecast to go down slightly next week and then remain fairly constant throughout the rest of the summer.

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