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Approaches differ on clearing out dry lakes during record drought

KCBX News - Randol White

With record drought conditions on the Central Coast, several neighborhood lakes have either dried up or are nearly dry. One of the most visible is San Luis Obispo's Laguna Lake, where neighbors are pushing the city to dig a deeper lakebed. It's a process already underway up the road in Atascadero.

There is heavy equipment in the bottom of the 27- acre, Atascadero Lake, removing soil and transferring it to trucks. This process of dredging to deepen the lake, can improve its overall health.

The California drought has made for drier lakes, which are less expensive to dredge. David Athey is the Deputy Public Works Director in Atascadero. He says the project had been a local priority since last year, so the city was able to move quickly once the lake dried out.

For permitting and timing requirements, the Atascadero's city leaders worked with the Water Quality Control Board and the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

"They realize that this is a once-in-every-50-year possibility, so they were very helpful and accommodating and helpful to speed the process up," said Athey. 

Credit Ricardo Teodocio
The Laguna Lake neighborhood from above (taken 10/18/2014) showing a bit of water remaining near the deep end of the lake (left).

  In San Luis Obispo, some would like to see the city's Laguna Lake dredged in the same speedy manner. Jim Foley's home sits on the dry lake and he has been actively campaigning to see the project gets done in a timely fashion, in order to save money on the dredging bid.

"Come January, since I don't expect that they're suddenly going to have an epiphany and start this now, like they should, that the next step is everybody shows up at the goal setting and makes this a major city goal," said Foley.

Bob Hill, the City's Natural Resources Manager, says it's not that simple. He says the process requires permits from city, state and potentially federal levels. He says San Luis Obispo faces challenges that Atascadero leaders didn't, including the lake's size and its critical habitat for steel head trout.

"To be clear, while the Council has adopted a conservation plan that allows a dredging project, they haven't necessarily given the go-ahead and funding to do that yet," said Hill. "However, I expect that to be a point of conversation at our upcoming budget meeting."

Hill said based on upcoming community input during January workshops, his staff will prepare a final plan to be completed prior to the end of the city's fiscal year next June.

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