In the News

Lowering Loch Lomond: Santa Cruz reservoir dips to 16-year low

By J.M. Brown
Santa Cruz Sentinel, 9/10/13

SANTA CRUZ -- With nearly two months before the rainy season begins, Loch Lomond Reservoir has hit its lowest level in 16 years as the city wrestles with consecutive dry winters and mandates to surrender river and stream flow for fish habitat.

The city has drained 600 million gallons from the 2.83 billion gallon lake, leaving the primary water storage facility at 79 percent full. That level is 2 feet above the city's goal of ending the dry season at 75 percent.

Water Conservation Manager Toby Goddard said the reservoir hasn't dipped below 80 percent since 1997, when it hit 70 percent. The drawdown has been enough for the lake's Clar Innis Island to become a peninsula, a far contrast to many winter seasons when the reservoir has spilled.

"We have had two dry years, and we operated the system this year in a way that left more water in the North Coast streams and the San Lorenzo River, but that put greater pressure to take that water out of Loch Lomond," Goddard said.

This summer, the city ceased diversions on Laguna Creek, a major source of freshwater on the North Coast, and increased bypasses on the lower portion of the river to support fish habitat, Goddard said. State and federal regulators have urged the city to alter operations at Loch Lomond and make other infrastructure improvements to increase the water available for endangered and threatened species.

The city and neighboring Soquel Creek Water District have proposed a joint seawater desalination facility to generate a new water supply, but city officials have expressed an intent to put the plan on hold in favor of creating a public education campaign about drought risk and fish habitat obligations.

Meanwhile, city consumers have targets for cutting water use three months in a row, averaging a combined 10.7 million gallons per day in August. The city prohibited runoff and daytime irrigation from May through October, asking customers to reduce use 5 percent.

The city has issued nearly 600 violation notices this summer, most of which customers readily corrected, Goddard said. Only a few cases have resulted in penalties.

Meanwhile, now that days are getting shorter and plants require less water, Goddard encourages residents to cut back further on irrigation to keep the reservoir from dipping below 75 percent in case of a third dry year. The lower water level has exposed a number of tree stumps and other water hazards that are typically submerged, and newly exposed ground is slippery, chief ranger Scot Lang said.

"The shoreline is still very mucky, so be very careful," he said.

Boating and other recreation uses are permitted on weekends at Loch Lomond until Oct. 13, after which the area will be closed to the public until March 1.

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