By Miriam Raftery
July 12, 2016 (Lake Morena) – The City of San Diego has no plans to restore water levels in Lake Morena or take any actions whatsoever to remedy the harm done to the community by draining the lake—despite residents who have stated there was not enough water in the Lake for firefighting helicopters during the Border Fire, which killed two people and burned five homes, as ECM reported.
That’s the response provided by Alma Rife, senior information officer with the City of San Diego, to an inquiry sent by East County Magazine to the Mayor’s office. E-mails sent to each Councilmember have thus far not been answered.
Her remarks amount to a whitewashing of the truth and ignoring the dangerous conditions the city has created for Lake Morena and other rural residents. In our inquiry, we noted that “the city never asked its residents to conserve water before ordering this lake drained.” (Hear a city water official admit this in our December 9, interview aired on KNSJ Radio: http://k007.kiwi6.com/hotlink/rv7o62fey0/ECMshow-12-9-13.mp3)
Rife states, “Saving water is a way of life for San Diegans. The City of San Diego has asked its residents to conserve water for years and to great success. Over the past two years, the State of California has mandated the City of San Diego reduce its water use from 2013 levels by 16% and then 8% by February 2016.”
Why didn’t the city ask its residents to conserve water before draining the lake, instead of waiting until the state forced it to do so?
Moreover, she confirms that after the Border Fire, the City Council ordered all conservation restrictions lifted, considering the region has an adequate water supply:
“Most recently, thanks to strong conservation efforts and investment in new supplies, The San Diego County Water Authority (CWA’s) has determined the San Diego region has an adequate water supply for this and the next three years. It is expected that the CWA’s decision will be certified by the State of California which would eliminate San Diego’s water conservation goal of 8 percent. As a result, the Public Utilities Department asked the City Council to enact the Level One Drought Watch condition. The City Council approved the recommendation on July 12, 2016 and it is now in effect. For information on water restrictions, please visit https://www.sandiego.gov/water/conservation.”
Asked about restoring levels in Lake Morena, she claims that can’t happen other than through future rainfall:
“Commonly referred to as a city lake, Moreno Reservoir is actually an impounding reservoir that is part of the City's municipal drinking water-supply system and is accessed according to the needs of the City of San Diego water ratepayers. Morena Reservoir has a water storage capacity of 50,694 acre-feet. It is not connected to the imported water system; therefore, replenishment is solely reliant on runoff and rainfall. For more information on the City’s reservoirs, including current water levels, visit https://www.sandiego.gov/water/recreation/reservoirs.”
Asked where the city cares about rural lives or is prepared to take any steps to remedy the damage done, Rife provided no answer whatsoever.
If you believe that answer is not adequate, you can contact Rife at (619)533-4589. You can call or e-mail the Mayor and Council members at:
Below is our letter to the city officials:
From: Miriam Raftery [mailto:email@example.com]
Sent: Friday, July 08, 2016 3:06 PM
To: Mayor Kevin Faulconer <KevinFaulconer@sandiego.gov>; firstname.lastname@example.org; Berumen, Marisa <MBerumen@sandiego.gov>; Councilmember Marti Emerald <MartiEmerald@sandiego.gov>; Councilmember David Alvarez <DavidAlvarez@sandiego.gov>; Councilmember Scott Sherman <ScottSherman@sandiego.gov>; Councilmember Chris Cate <ChrisCate@sandiego.gov>; Councilmember Mark Kersey <MarkKersey@sandiego.gov>; Councilmember Myrtle Cole <MyrtleCole@sandiego.gov>; Councilmember Todd Gloria <ToddGloria@sandiego.gov>; Councilmember Lorie Zapf <LorieZapf@sandiego.gov>; Councilmember Sherri Lightner <SherriLightner@sandiego.gov>
Subject: city's draining Lake Morena blamed for deaths, loss of homes in Border Fire
Dear Mayor, Council members and Public Safety Committee:
In 2013 when the City decided to drain Lake Morena we interviewed a city water official and shared concerns of rural residents that this could leave the lake without enough water to fight fires.
Now that apparently has happened. Witnesses have said they saw firefighting helicopters try to get water out of the lake but there wasn’t enough, so they had to fly to a lake near Alpine since both Lake Morena and nearby Barrett Lake have been drained very low by the City.
On day one of the fire, a Cal Fire PIO told me they would have the fire out quickly, holding it to 2 or 3 acres. Instead it got out of control, burned 7,000 acres, killed two people trapped in Potrero who could not escape, burned 5 homes and 11 outbuildings. Some who did flee had to drive through a tunnel of fire on 94 as there was not enough water and/or resources.
During the fire, I personally heard scanner traffic indicating planes were not arriving fast enough. Similarly there was chatter on a firefighters’ blog and community Facebook pages voicing similar concerns.
At a community meeting in Campo two nights ago, some angry residents are blaming the City of San Diego for the deaths and property destruction.
I will add that in a taped radio interview with a city water official shortly after the draining began, we raised the question of putting the communities there at risk during a fire, as did residents in the interview, and that concern was ignored. So were concerns about harm to property values, tourism, wildlife etc., all of which have reportedly now also occurred.
Meanwhile the city never asked its residents to conserve water before ordering this lake drained. Now the city is easing water restrictions while people in Morena Village have wells that have gone dry because no more water is flowing into their aquifer/groundwater since the lake has been drained to just 2.7% of capacity as when the fire began.
Does the city of San Diego care about rural lives?
What steps are you prepared to take to remedy the damage done?
Will you restore the lake levels at least partially?
Will the City of San Diego be doing anything to help make restorations/reparations to the people harmed in this fire, and/or to prevent a future disaster that could potentially be even worse since thankfully there were no Santa Ana winds during this wildfire?
Note: Citizens out there have said that while the City has an ill-conceived contract with the County and has sought to charge the County high levels to restore the water, and the County may be bound by the contract terms, the rural residents are NOT bound by that contract and can sue to take back their water rights under newly enacted state laws that mandate local control of groundwater by communities nearest the water resource. Arguably a city an hour away, that Morena residents don’t live in and have no voice in, is not local control.
They could also potentially sue the city for damage caused by the city’s actions. We have a public records request in to obtain communications among fire officials regarding water levels at the lake and will be publishing those once received, also sharing this information with our sister/partner media outlets including 10 News and Times of San Diego.
Thank you for your prompt attention to this very serious life-or-death matter.
Miriam Raftery, Editor
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