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Central Coast reservoirs riding high after winter rains; Lake Nacimiento group continues with lawsuit

Posted: 6:05 PM, Jul 29, 2019
Updated: 2019-07-29 21:05:14-04

The heavy rains that hit the Central Coast this past winter are keeping recreators at area lakes and reservoirs happy this summer. However, the precipitation has done little to ease concerns for a group fighting Monterey County over the water it withdraws from Lake Nacimiento.

The water level at Lake Nacimiento on Monday measured at 63 percent. This same time last year, the lake was 27 percent full.

“The increased reservoir levels we have now is due to the rains we got this year,” said Ray Dienzo, San Luis Obispo County Supervising Water Resource Engineer.

Dienzo has been charting the water levels of reservoirs and lakes across the county, as well as Lake Nacimiento, which is technically controlled by Monterey County.

Dienzo said the Christmas-time rains are the gift that keeps on giving.

“It has definitely kept our reservoir levels up and that’s significant this year that we haven’t seen in recent years,” Dienzo said.

A single storm is just a drop in the bucket, but Dienzo said a consistent season of precipitation, like the first half of 2019, makes all the difference.

“This year, the Santa Margarita Lake or Salinas Reservoir actually spilled between February and March,” Dienzo said.

He did note that the water levels don’t necessarily mean the groundwater is sustainable through the summer and conservation efforts are still important.

The levels at Santa Margarita Lake have not been seen in recent years. Though Lake Nacimiento shares in the wealth, Heritage Ranch resident Bruce McFadden is cautious about the levels.

That caution is the reason McFadden said his group, Nacimiento Regional Water Management Advisory Committee, is maintaining its $120 million lawsuit against Monterey County over its management of the lake.

“Nacimiento is the Kingpin of a lot of what goes on here,” McFadden said. “It’s the crown jewel.”

Recreation on Lake Nacimiento is a big reason, McFadden said, many people have chosen to live in the area.

It takes 730 feet of elevation for boats to launch. The water measured Monday was well above that line, lapping against the shore at an elevation of 772 feet.

“2017, wet year, lots of water,” McFadden said. “2019, wet year, lots of water. 2018 was not.”

McFadden said the low water level last year prompted the closure of the lake in August, which he said upset many of the 6,500 homeowners represented by NRWMAC.

“If you own property up here, you’re affected by the lake, good and bad,” McFadden said. “We want it to be good, not bad.”

A GoFundMe for the effort called Save the Dragon has surpassed $112,000.

McFadden said the aim of the lawsuit is to create a sustainable plan that prevents Monterey County from taking out too much water from Lake Nacimiento.

The lake is designed for use in irrigation, flood control, groundwater recharge, and recreation. McFadden said the recreation element is not given enough credence.

NRWMAC planned to meet Monday night with the County to potentially work through some outstanding issues that could appease both sides.

Monterey County officials did not return KSBY’s requests for comment.