CENTRAL COAST LIVING: A new view of SLO County lakes - KSBY.com | San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara Area News

CENTRAL COAST LIVING: A new view of SLO County lakes

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KSBY: Aerial view of Lake Nacimiento KSBY: Aerial view of Lake Nacimiento

Five years of drought turned many San Luis Obispo County lakes into dry, cracked dirt beds. Then, the Central Coast was pummeled with rain early this year, transforming the landscape from dry and drought-stricken to lush and alive. 

As summer approaches, many are expected to seek relief from the heat at local lakes, including Lake Nacimiento, Santa Margarita Lake and Lopez Lake.

For the first time in years, many of those lakes are actually more lake-like. 

To gain a better perspective on how much the rain has impacted water levels, Paso Robles-based Sinton Helicopters offered to take KSBY on a flight. 

Watch the video attached to this story to see how impressive the change is from the air. 

Deputy Director of San Luis Obispo County Public Works, Mark Hutchinson, is cautiously optimistic about the most recent lake level numbers. 

"Nacimiento is essentially full, over the spillway. Salinas Dam is 100 percent  full," Hutchinson said. "Whale Rock, is in the 75 percent range which is high for that lake and then we come to Lopez in the South County and it's made great strides from 20 percent full up to 60 percent full."

This time last year, Hutchinson and his team were planning how to cope with a major water shortage. 

"That kind of work continues because this drought has highlighted how important it is. It's quite a bit less stressful to do it now," he said. 

Hutchinson estimates this winter's rain will only supply SLO County watersheds for one to three years. 

"We just don't know if this wet year is the end of the drought or if it's a single wet year," he said. 

Meanwhile, SLO County Parks and Recreation officials think this may be the busiest summer in years. 

"We expect somewhere between one and two million people in all of our facilities," said Larry Iaquinto, Assistant Director of SLO County Department of Parks and Recreation. 

Iaquinto says his department took a major revenue hit because of the low lakes and drought conditions but now with the water flowing in, so is the cash. 

"What we've seen already is an influx of revenue coming in, even in March, which we're very surprised to see and that's before the boaters started coming out and the campers started coming," he said. "We think we're going to have a good revenue-generating season."

Dry watersheds and debris have clouded the water in many of the lakes. 

Remnants of last August's Chimney Fire mire Lake Nacimiento. However, Hutchinson says not to worry. 

"Our staff is out on those lakes nearly weekly taking samples up and down the reservoir and then also in front of our intake structures," he said. 

Hutchinson says public works is increasing the frequency of filtration cycles but overall, tests show the water is safe and lake-goers should have no reason to hesitate from recreating in the water. 

With most weekends already booking up at the lakes, county leaders hope locals and tourists alike will start making reservations to spend this summer lakeside. 

There are also some new changes at a few of the lakes. 

The Campaneros Campground at Lopez Lake is newly renovated with 28 full hookups. 

You will also find new cabins at Lopez and Santa Margarita Lakes. 

To make reservations to camp at SLO County lakes, click here. 

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