California drought forces boat ramp closure at Diamond Valley Lake

By: Parimal M. Rohit

HEMET — April 15 is a day commonly associated with Uncle Sam’s annual door-to-door collection tour. Severe drought conditions in California will force anglers and boaters who frequent Diamond Valley Lake in Hemet to deal with another government agency on Tax Day, as officials from Southern California’s Metropolitan Water District (MWD) suspended private boat launches beginning April 15 at the manmade reservoir.

Diamond Valley Lake’s boat launch ramp will be shut down indefinitely because of low lake levels.

“[MWD] projects water levels will reach the end of the boat ramp at the reservoir’s East Marina by mid-April,” a statement issued by the water agency read. “Storage levels at Diamond Valley Lake near Hemet in southwest Riverside County are expected to begin receding in early April as water is drawn to meet the region’s supply needs.”

The closure will be the second time in six years MWD officials temporarily suspended boat launches. Diamond Valley Lake’s private boat launch ramp was temporarily suspended for 15 months between October 2008 to December 2009, also because of drought conditions and low water levels.

“We understand the public recreation impacts this action will have at the lake, recognized as one of the premier fishing spots in Southern California,” MWD General Manager Jeffrey Kightlinger said. “While we all remain proud of Diamond Valley Lake and the recreation it provides, the reservoir’s primary purpose is to help maintain water supply reliability for Metropolitan, our 26 member public agencies and nearly 19 million Southern Californians.”

Although the private boat launch ramp will be temporarily shut down, Diamond Valley Lake will still be open to the public. Anglers will be able to access 3 miles of shoreline designated for public fishing, MWD officials announced. 

Rental boats will also remain available to the lake’s visitors during the closure, though MWD officials stated the service could be temporarily halted if “it becomes impractical or unsafe to operate and maintain the rental fleet.”

Visitors can still use canoes and kayaks on the lake provided the watercrafts meet prescribed guidelines and the boarding docks remain serviceable.

Diamond Valley Lake was dedicated in 2000; public recreation was permitted at the lake in 2003. According to MWD, the lake’s storage capacity of 810,000 acre-feet of water; its surface water elevation is 1,756 feet above sea level.

When MWD announced the temporary boat launch ramp closure in mid-March, the lake’s stored 390,000 acre-feet of water, about 48 percent of capacity.

The lake’s water levels reportedly dropped 44 feet when MWD withdrew water from the reservoir in January 2014 to meet the needs of its members. MWD will continue to draw water from Diamond Valley Lake but maintain an emergency supply, Kightlinger said.

Water rationing could become the agency’s top priority if drought conditions persist. Kightlinger said Diamond Valley Lake’s water levels could reach its lowest mark since MWD began filling the reservoir about 15 years ago. The water agency could begin rationing how much water it makes available to its 26 member cities and 19 million customers to ensure the reservoir maintains water supplies in case California’s drought continues into 2016 and 2017.

Two days after MWD announced Diamond Valley Lake’s private boat launch ramp would be shut down indefinitely, Gov. Jerry Brown and state lawmakers announced a $1 billion relief package to help address the drought’s impacts.

Brown stated the relief package would help fund water infrastructure projects and accelerate $128 million in expenditures to implement a Water Action Plan and assist communities most impacted by the drought. The relief package would also provide funding for safe drinking water and flood protection.

“This unprecedented drought continues with no signs yet of letting up,” Brown said.”The programs funded by the actions announced [in the relief bill] will provide direct relief to workers and communities most impacted by these historic dry conditions.”

According to Brown’s staff, current drought conditions could be attributed to a near record low Sierra Nevada snowpack. California relies upon the snowpack to provide water during the state’s dry summer months. 

“The March snowpack measurement came in at 0.9 inches of water content in the snow, just 5 percent of the March 3rd historical average for the measurement site,” the governor’s office stated. “The overall water content for the Northern Sierra snowpack came in at 4.4 inches, just 16 percent of average for the date. Central and southern Sierra readings were 5.5 inches (20 percent of average) and 5 inches (22 percent) respectively. Only in 1991 has the water content of the snow been lower.”

California’s drought is now in its fourth year and has impacted several boating destinations. Officials at Castaic Lake in Santa Clarita warned boaters of receding water levels caused by the drought.

“Receding water levels due to the drought are creating hazards and extremely muddy shorelines that are limited and difficult to access. Please exercise due caution when operating your vessel and while attempting to access the shoreline by foot,” the boater warning on Castaic Lake’s website stated.

Meanwhile, anglers in Kern County reportedly participated in the 2015 Isabella Lake Fishing Derby from March 28 to 30 despite a low water level. 

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