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Sightseers flock to Lopez Lake to see the reservoir spilling over for first time in a quarter of a century

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Posted at 6:45 PM, Mar 23, 2023

A scene of rushing water, cars lining the street and bystanders stopping to snap photos — an unusual sight to many Californians. Lopez Lake, a reservoir that holds roughly 50,000 acre-feet of water, reached capacity Thursday and is spilling over its banks for the first time in a quarter of a century.

“To see the lake so low for so many years, it’s just always so disappointing and to see it full again, it’s just pretty remarkable,” said Marty Hawke, Arroyo Grande resident.

“Oh, it’s really exciting. First time in 20-25 years," said Harvey Schwartzman, Arroyo Grande resident.

“Just pretty impressive just to see the water level up at the highest point,” said Charles Rudnick, Paso Robles resident.

“It’s great to see something like that. Thank God that we got wonderful rain," said Minerava Berkeley, Arroyo Grande resident.

“It finally spilled so we just had to come and see it,” said Diane Strickland, Arroyo Grande resident.

“It’s unbelievable. It’s amazing,” said Sean Brennan, Arroyo Grande resident.

Less than two years ago, in October 2021, the City of Arroyo Grande enacted its stage one water restrictions due to low water levels at Lopez Lake.

“I track it every day, so I knew it had to get to 522.6 feet to go over and it hit it," Schwartzman said.

A massive increase that seemed nearly impossible not long ago.

“The lake finally reached capacity and began spilling this morning at about 5:15,” said Kate Ballantyne, San Luis Obispo County Deputy Director of Public Works.

The spectacle is attracting visitors from across the county, traveling by car, bike and foot, to see the spillway being utilized for the first time in more than two decades.

“People are just excited. It’s the first time in 25 years that Lake Lopez has reached full capacity," Ballantyne said.

Lopez isn’t the only reservoir in San Luis Obispo County that’s spilling over.

“We are 100% full out at Whale Rock right now so we’re spilling over the top of the spillway,” said Mychal Boerman, City of San Luis Obispo Utilities Department Deputy Director.

Boerman says the last time Whale Rock Reservoir near Cayucos spilled was in the winter of 2006.

“Between all of our reservoirs, based on our calculations, we have more than 10 years of water available to the city right now," Boerman said.

After a brutal dry season that left Californians worried about water, community members are relieved.

“This is great. This is what it’s all designed for, so lots of water for years to come,” Brennan said.

The evacuation warning for residents in Oceano has been lifted by the county. The main concern was that when Lopez Lake spilled over it would cause the Arroyo Grande Creek to flood. However, the county has determined the risk for residents near the Arroyo Grande Creek has subsided.