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Drought takes toll on lake

Posted: May 30, 2009 1:58 p.m.
Updated: May 30, 2009 1:58 p.m.
The statewide drought is prompting the Metropolitan Water District to siphon water from Castaic Lake into its water service system, which may make it harder to enjoy boating there this summer, a lake official said.

Castaic Lake is 21 feet below full, with a current depth of 309 feet, said Ralph Searcy, supervising lifeguard for the Castaic Lake Recreation Area. Normal depth when the lake is full is 330 feet. If a trend by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California to draft lake water to supplement its water supply continues, the lake level could dip to more than 80 feet from full, to a depth of 250 feet by July 4, he said.

Dropping lake levels by 80 feet or more mean the Castaic Lake’s West Boat Ramp will close, Searcy said. The West Boat Ramp can launch up to 175 boats per day, he said.

The County of Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation, which operates recreational activities on Castaic Lake, may slash the number of boats it allows on the lake in half, from 500 boats to 250 per day, Searcy said.

“As the surface area of the lake shrinks, there is less room for boats,” he said.

The combination of a statewide drought and an agreement between the Metropolitan Water District and the Department of Water Resources means the lake’s level is falling. Castaic Lake is owned by the Department of Water Resources and provides temporary storage for water imported through the state water project to Southern California, said Dan Masnada, Castaic Lake Water Agency general manager.

Castaic Lake Water Agency, like Metropolitan Water, is a state water project contractor that resells state water to local retailers.
“Metropolitan Water plans to draft water from the lake until late in the summer,” said Jim Green, water system operations manager for the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

Metropolitan Water District has a flexible storage agreement with the Department of Water Resources, Green said. The agreement allows Metropolitan Water to take water from Castaic Lake to supplement its water needs, he said

Metropolitan Water will draft 156,000 acre feet of the 250,000 acre feet of water in the lake during the summer, Green said. “Because of the (drought) conditions and the regulatory conditions, we are receiving less water from the Sacramento Delta,” he said.

The regulatory conditions Green and other water officials are concerned with is the 2008 Federal District Court decision by Judge Oliver Wanger to protect a small fish called the delta smelt by further reducing the volume of water pumped by the state water project to Southern California. The smelt is a protected fish species that only live in the Sacramento Delta.

Metropolitan Water’s contract with Department of Water Resources Control requires the water agency to return the water it drafts from Castaic Lake back to the lake within two years. “We plan to start returning the water in late summer and fall,” he said. The replacement water will come from Metropolitan Water’s allocation from the state water project.    

The dropping water levels will impact more than the number of boats on the Castaic Lake, it may also impact jobs.
With less surface area for boats and therefore fewer boaters, the employees at Castaic Lake Recreation Area are concerned about layoffs this summer, Searcy said.

“There’s always the possibility to lose staff,” he said.

Whether there will be cuts in staff at Castaic Lake Recreation Area, and how deep those cuts might be, is unclear at this time, he said.

As the water levels recede during the summer months, the fish living there will find Castaic Lake crowded and difficult to inhabit. A shrinking lake means less space for the fish to swim - and, more importantly, to spawn, Searcy said.

“Early in the spring, about March, the largemouth bass spawn in the shallow water. When you drop the water level after the spawn, the eggs are exposed and it eliminates the new fry,” he said.

Those fry play a key role in maintaining the largemouth bass population, but the newly hatched fish are a food source for larger predators, Searcy added.


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