Dam upgrades slated to begin at Lake Morena in 2018, but there’s no guarantee water levels will ever be restored
By Miriam Raftery
January 12, 2017 (Lake Morena) -- Even after heavy rainfalls doused our region, three East County Reservoirs remain at very low levels. As of January 9th, Lake Morena is at just 2.1 percent of capacity, Barrett Lake is att 5.5 percent, and Sutherland 7.3 percent of capacity, according to the City of San Diego.
These are the only local reservoirs not connected to the State Water Project system of canals and aqueducts, thus they are solely dependent on rainfall which has not been enough to replenish large quantities pumped out by the City of San Diego to meet its thirst for water.
Lake Morena’s level is far below the level at which the city of San Diego promised to cease its drawdown. Since then, the water level has continued to fall due to evaporation. Residents have long voiced anger and frustration over negative impacts on wildlife, scenery, the tourism economy of the lakefront community, property values, , as well as the quality and availability of well water at nearby properties. Homes and cabins that once overlooked a verdant lake now have vistas of a dry lakebed or brackish puddles.
Barrett Lake in Dulzura was once a fisherman's paradise. Lake Sutherland in Ramona is also a shadow of its former presence.
East County resident Tom Lemon asks, “I wonder what will happen to our water supply? Raising rates to force conservation hurts the poor and we've already done as much we can using low flow shower heads and toilets.”
Repairs and upgrades to the dam at Lake Morena are expected to be made from 2018 to 2020. After that, the lake will still be dependent on natural rainfall to refill it –and even then, the city could decide to take more water, a staffer at Supervisor Dianne Jacob’s office advised ECM.
Here is her office’s full response to our request for information on why Lake Morena was drained so low, and what if anything would be done to repair the dam and restore water levels:
Our office turned to staff for help with your questions. Here’s what we got back:
In response to the inquiry regarding reservoir levels, we wanted to provide you with the following information about Lake Morena:
•The City of San Diego ceased drawing down water in February 2014. The water gauge level at that time was 85, which was the level the City committed to stop drawing.
•Since that time the water level in the lake has continued to fall due to evaporation.
•Over the past couple months staff has observed that the level of the lake has risen about one-foot. This is a result of direct rainfall; we have not received enough rainfall for Cottonwood Creek (main stream that feeds the lake) to flow into the lake. Current water gauge level is between 75 and 76. (Note: Due to siltation this is not an accurate measure of water depth.)
•The City is required to make repairs/upgrades to the dam. This is part of the reason why the City lowered the water level in the lake. The City’s project schedule shows construction commencing in 2018 and being complete in late 2020.
•Following completion of construction, refilling of the lake will have to take place naturally (rainfall) as there are no pipes to bring water to the lake.
Once construction is complete the refilling of the reservoir will be entirely dependent on rainfall. However, it is possible that the City may continue to move water from Morena to lower level reservoirs that are more efficient (lower evaporation rate).