O.C. Grand Jury Report (Part 2 of 2): Six steps to re-opening of Irvine Lake?

Jurors outline what Orange County and water district could do to expedite a re-opening of Irvine Lake, which has been closed since 2016.

SANTA ANA—Irvine Lake could re-open to fishing and boating again – if OC Parks and the Serrano Water District find ways to resolve differences, make certain disclosures, explore ways to make the freshwater lake economically viable and establish recreational rights. These were the suggestions made by the O.C. Grand Jury, which FishRap News covered in the first part of this two-part story (May 31 to June 13 issue).

Jurors outlined six recommendations in its May 13 report, which suggested a path for Orange County officials and water district staff to re-open Irvine Lake. The waterway is Orange County’s largest freshwater lake.

OC Parks and Serrano Water District should hire a mediator to break an impasse on water-based recreation rights, assuming both parties can’t come to terms on the issue before Sept. 30.

Both parties should solicit a mediator, the jury also recommended, if they cannot come to terms on transferring all but the water recreation rights to OC Parks – these transferred rights would specifically apply to road parcels and easements.

Serrano Water District should, according to the grand jury’s third recommendation, “provide full financial disclosure of historical operating information for water-based recreational activity.” The provided information would be from the period between 2011 and 2016, as a start, and, according to the grand jury report, should be “in sufficient detail to allow OC Parks to evaluate any recreation rights buyout offer or other specific management proposal.”

“Absent such information,” the grand jury report continued, “[Serrano Water District] and OC Parks should negotiate and present to their respective governing bodies a management agreement to continue operating water-based recreation at Irvine Lake and share revenue, expenses and net profits.”

The question is whether both parties would be able to come to such terms by Sept. 30, which was the deadline set by jurors.

A resolution to open Irvine Lake should be reached by Dec. 31, the grand jury stated. If a resolution is not reached then the respective staffs of Serrano Water District, Irvine Ranch Water District and OC Parks, according to the grand jury, “should post on their respective websites and submit to their governing body for discussion in a public meeting their perspective as the obstacles to reopening the lake and what plan they have to resolve the issue.”

An economic feasibility, specifically outlining the minimum water level needed for expected income and other cost offsets, was also recommended to be complete by Dec. 31 – for all parties involved.

OC Parks, in the final recommendation, was asked to hold public planning meetings by March 31, 2020, to discus possible uses and activities at Irvine Lake. The meetings should ultimately result in a multi-year Recreational Master Plan, which would include various public/private models to manage costs and liabilities associated with boating at Irvine Lake.

The grand jury determined OC Parks won’t be able to project future financial opportunities at Irvine Lake without first having access to “sufficient historical financial information” from Santiago Water District.

“Minimal effort to engage one another, a lack of creative proposals and slow responsiveness between OC Parks and the water districts have allowed negotiations to stall,” the grand jury stated in its findings. “[Serrano Water District], OC Parks and [Irvine Ranch Water District] acknowledge that to maximize recreational opportunities a more stable Irvine Lake water level is desirable.”

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