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By: Jessyka Heredia 




August 31, 2023 (Alpine)— Last Thursday, residents came to the Alpine Community Planning Group to hear about the U.S. Forestry Service’s wildfire protection efforts in Alpine and discuss the easement agreement between the Forestry department and the Sweetwater Water Authority (SWA)Residents want to see fish restocked and reservoir gates opened from sunrise to sunset at Loveland Reservoir, according to the easement deed.


Back in November 2022, ECM reported on Loveland Reservoir near Alpine being drained by Sweetwater Water Authority (SWA) to dead pool level – less than one-half of one percent of the reservoir’s capacity, to save their customers from paying higher rates. Critics argued this was done without regard to impacts on wildlife, residents or fire danger, killing all of the fish and limiting access for hikers and other recreational users. After Loveland’s extreme draining was completed, heavy winter rains caused severe erosion damage to trails. 


Back in 2022 ECM asked members of the SWA board by email, “One of the nearest reservoirs to Loveland, Lake Morena, has also been drained to near oblivion by the City of San Diego a few years ago, which left residents contending with dead fish and algae blooms in recent years. Where is the equity in this?” SWA responded, “Matters of equity come into play when our customers would likely have to pay higher rates so a group of few people can fish.”


U.S. Forest Service looks to build a partnership with residents


A group of men standing in front of a group of peopleDescription automatically generatedCleveland National Forest Supervisor Scott Tangenberg, was in attendance at the Community Planning Group meeting, as well as colleague Kyle Smith, Descanso District Ranger, to keep residents informed on ongoing efforts to reduce wildfire risks in communities like Alpine through wildland fuels management. The representatives said they were also willing to address the community concerns in the Loveland Reservoir draining as well as not having sunrise to sunset access as written in the easement deed between the U.S. Forestry Service and the SWA. 


Smith started off the presentation explaining about the Forestry Service’s wildfire crisis strategy. Smith stated that this is a “massive initiative that is really intended to combat the wildfire crisis in this country.” Smith gave the audience statistics. “$5.5 billion dollars from the bipartisan infrastructure law and an additional $1.8 billion from the inflation reduction act is going to the Forest Service to implement this across the country.” Smith explained that in 2023, Southern California Forestry received $10 million, which was used for 5,000 acres of fuel reduction and fuel treatments in order to prevent wildfires.


After the presentation on fuel reductions, Tangenberg spoke to the planning group and residents about the situation at Loveland Reservoir. Tangenberg told the audience that he was hopeful that this meeting could be the “beginning of a more active partnership with the community and Alpine Planning Group as a voice and a forum and where additional efforts should be taken.” In regard to fire prevention and fire safety.


Tangenberg shifted to the topic that mattered most to the residents and board members that evening. He explained, “The Loveland Reservoir is owned operated, maintained and the rights to the water are fully in Sweetwater Authority’s hands. What the Forest Service does have is a non-exclusive public access easement with a small parking lot, a bathroom facility, a short trail and then shoreline access.” Tangenberg said, “We hold that easement on behalf of the public and it is available for public use. The easement terms describe sunrise to sunset.” Tangenberg did admit that the water authority was closing the gates at” 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. depending on the season and generally with openings around sunrise


Tangenberg expressed that he does “appreciate that it does cause some frustration for some folks who would like to experience that reservoir a little bit later into the evening, particularly the summer months.” He reiterated that he was hoping for a “willing partnership with constructive minded individuals who are interested in with a solution that can work to potentially adjust those hours.” Tangenberg reassured the audience the U.S. Forestry Service has encouraged the SWA to maximize those hours. He finished by stating, “The agreement that was established with SWA back at the time of the land exchange, which transferred all of the land ownership of the adjacent area around the reservoir to the water authority, was simply for that land transfer. That agreement has expired. When questioned later Tangenberg said he believed that was a five-year agreement.  

ECM reached out to Tangenberg by email for a copy of this original agreement that describes a five-year agreement Tangenberg provided the deed and land transfer documents but clarified, ” Upon closer review, it does not appear to have a five-year expiration timeframe listed on this agreement (that is simply the usual timeframe for most of our agreements).  However, since it only covered the logistics of the land transfer process, it effectively expired once the land transfer was completed.  Again, the Easement is a separate document, and remains in effect. 


Public Comment 

The residents in the audience were only asking that the terms of the easement deed were upheld, and that the reservoir was filled back with fish as they were accustomed to in the past, and that the sunrise to sunset hours of operation be respected by SWA. The residents also expressed that they did not believe that an easement agreement would expire.


Long time resident David Thomas spoke first during the public comment portion of the meeting. Thomas said, “I was here when that transfer happened, I was caught poaching in that east end, so that is why Sweetwater was willing to start talking is because we were constantly fishing that east end. We had Forestry land that we got to fish 24 hours a day, 7 days a week that we gave up.” Thomas recalled that back then, “We had a voice, and that voice was the Forest Service.” Thomas said he felt that that voice has now been silenced and pleaded with Tangenberg and Smith to please start being the community’s voice again. Thomas concluded, “I have lost something that means everything to me. My lake is dead, and I need to get it back.” 


Karen Wood, a member of Friends of Loveland Reservoir stated she has 40 years’ experience as a contract manager and addressed the easement terms that Tangenberg claimed expired. “I think there is a major misunderstanding,” Wood said. “There was an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) back in 1994 that set out what each party would do. At the end of that it was non-binding. That’s what we keep hearing from the Forest Service in Washington DC; it’s a non-binding agreement. That was the preliminary agreement. No one cancelled it, everyone executed it. Wood talked about how there were negotiations that got them to the final agreement like no night fishing, no dogs or horses allowed.” Wood finished, “Slowly Sweetwater has infringed on that easement, they’ve started closing.” Wood expressed displeasure with the Forestry Service, too. “You’re supposed to be our partner,” she told the federal forestry officials. “This is a fishing easement. If you drain it to dead pool, you’ve got no shoreline, you’ve got no fishing, you’ve got no water. You can’t constrain an easement--and they are constraining it big time.” 


Russell Walsh said he “begs to differ with Mr. Tangenberg’s description of them working with Sweetwater Authority and encouraging SWA to facilitate what we need.” Walsh said it was residents who have been pressuring Sweetwater. “We did that with Fox News, we did that with protesting, we did that. They did the opposite.” Walsh claims that Tangenberg had a discussion with the lake manager about troublemakers. “I have a whole Freedom of Information Act full of emails about a troublemaker, and a belligerent guy. In fact, I think my civil rights have been violated and that is why there is so much hidden agendas and so much protection. Walsh added, “California bought $300 million worth of helicopters that you flew a couple of years ago for service. I have a picture of fire with me inside the house waiting for firefighters to come put the fire out because it went like crazy after the helicopters left. There is a body of water in the middle of a national forest,” noting that Tangenberg says his “top priority is firefighting, and it doesn’t mean much to him. We own this, this is ours.” 


Elisa Peskin, 23 year resident, said she lives along the National Forest“All we are asking you to do is to maintain the integrity of your easement and enforce it for all of us. You are representing us collectively and its incomprehensible for Sweetwater Authority was allowed to drain that without one iota of a permit from Fish and Wildlife, without any kind of EPA studies,” she said.”If you dug a pond in your backyard you would have many, many officials telling you couldn’t, so its incomprehensible that an organization like that can completely decimate the wildlife population. Loveland was able to just skip by and have absolutely no recourse to answer to that.”  Kim Hales withFriends of Loveland Reservoir used her time  to read a sign that was recently taken down. It read, “Sweetwater Authority and the U.S. Forest service established a unique partnership to provide public fishing access in exchange for a parcel of land near the reservoir previously owned by the U.S. Government. The exchange increased natural habitat and forest lands available to San Diego County and southern California residents and wildlife.” The sign was dated 1997.  


Mary Hicks, who lives just two miles from Loveland reservoir, spoke about recent fires which were continuously brought up by the community members as this rural area has seen its share of devasting fires in recent years. Hicks explained that despite several fire breaks being established in the area, the fire crossed them and “destroyed agricultural properties, my property being one of them. If there is no water in Loveland how are we gonna be protected? Loveland is a great resource for the community.”  Questions from the board  After public comments, Tangenberg and Smith sat down to answer questions from the residents as well as the board. Board Chair Travis Lyon observed, “I think there’s obviously quite a bit of concern about the comment about the easement or the agreement expired and I’ll just state that in my experience, my understanding is that easements generally run with the land in perpetuity, and they wouldn’t expire. Can you address how you interpret that?” 


Tangenberg fully agreed and affirmed that theeasement is in effect to this day and will remain until cancelled, quit claimed or whatever. “The agreement that I was speaking to, there was a separate agreement,” he said. Tangenberg explained that this agreement was distinctly different than the easement itself. Tangenberg stated that his understanding of the agreement was “for the mechanics of performing the land transfer and enhancing the site. The parking lot, the bathroom, the gate, the trail etc. The agreement expired of its own accord.” Tangenberg did clarify however that the easement does outline shoreline access from sunrise to sunset. 


Board member Darlene Cosio asked Tangenberg “Is there a plan to prevent Loveland from being drained to dead pool levels? Tangenberg responded, “No, not that I am aware of. The Forest service again has no authority or rights to dictate how much water stays in that reservoir. Public access, that is all we have.” Cossio asked if there was a plan for the “reestablishment of the fishing program” and if the Forestry Service would support that effort. Tangenberg explained that he had no knowledge of a plan “other than what I have heard secondhand about the interest by SWA to restock the lake” and that the Forest Service would support that effort


Board member Angela May asked Tangenberg what year the five-year agreement expired. Tangenberg said he believed it was in 2002. May fired back, “So the Forest Service was really just passive in kind of letting that go and not pursuing a second agreement? Or has there been any efforts on part to reestablish something new going forward?”  Tangenberg responded that they have “had some conversations with SWA about reestablishing a new agreement. Those have not come to much fruition at this point.” May pressed on and asked Tangenberg, “Initially did you have influence at that point; now you don’t?” Tangenberg reiterated that the agreement was established just to facilitate the land transfer. Tangenberg was hopeful that a new agreement could be made and address those terms such as types of use.


Board member Mary Davis expressed that the community is “looking for stewardship and for our government to work for us and for you to help us enforce the California Constitution and hold them accountable. I’ll be very clear, 30% is my limit. It should never go below 30% and that’s a hill I’ll die on for this community.”


Tangenberg made it clear to the board that the U.S. Forest Service does not own the land in question. “We manage it on behalf of the public.” 


Responses from U.S. Forestry Service, Sweetwater Water Authority and Senator Brian Jones


ECM reached out to Tangenberg to see what his suggestions are moving forward for residents who are seeking to have Loveland Reservoir full of water, the fishing program reinstated as well as the sunrise to sunset hours reinstated. Tangenberg responded, “Loveland Reservoir is currently full of water (due to recent rains).  Sweetwater Authority is the owner and operator of the Reservoir, and they have the latitude to work with appropriate State of California agencies to restock the lake with fish.  As I said during the meeting, The Cleveland National Forest remains a willing partner to work constructively with the Authority, elected officials, and advocates to explore ways to expand the operational hours.” 


ECM also asked for the easement deed and the land transfer agreement, which are provided at the bottom of this article.  

ECM asked SWA Board Director Hector Martinez and board member Danny Delgado how much water was currently in the reservoir and if or when they are planning to bring back the fishing program and reestablish the sunrise to sunset operating hours. Neither have responded. 

State Senator Brian Jones has facilitated meetings with some residents concerned over Loveland, along with representatives from other agencies and Congressman Darrell Issa’s staff.


When we reached out for comment from Senator Jones about his willingness to help support the wants of his constituents, District Director Andrew Hayes replied, “This has been a long-standing case with our office, and we are working hard within our jurisdiction as a state legislator to help our constituents.” Hayes also provided a letter that Senator Jones sent back in May to Sweetwater Water Authority that is also included below this article.  


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Supervisor Tangenbergs Part.

Supervisor Tangenberg's leadership over Loveland. as we witnessed at our public meeting and is also well documented, has been very misguided and problematic from a public service point of view. However, he is not overtly rude. All of the really bad interpersonal stuff is attributable to Descanso Ranger Robert Heiar. Fortunately, the Forest Service has seen fit to transfer him far away. What is confusing is that the Forest Service also gave the Former Descanso Ranger a promotion.