A poor rain year has produced a stinky, low-level Atascadero Lake this summer, and the city is taking steps to ease the problem.
Currently at about 40 percent capacity, the lake levels are likely the worst the city has seen in 10 or 15 years, public works director Russ Thompson said.
“As the water recedes, it has caused some odor problems on the east side of the lake due to exposed soil and plant material, and shallow stagnant water,” Thompson said. “We have received several complaints in the last week.”
The city is currently working on fixes, including installing four new floating fountains to help increase oxygen at the lake later this month. It’s also working with the state to see if it can start a one-week project to scrape dead plant sludge from the lake bottom to improve oxygen levels and the long-term health of the water.
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The issue follows repeated challenges that have plagued the lake in previous years, including dead fish, bird feces and odors.
In hot weather, numerous algae blooms grow and decrease the water’s oxygen, which can kill fish and plants. Hundreds of fish died in 2001. About 30 fish deaths occurred in 2008.
The fish are fine so far, officials said, but decreasing water levels are all too noticeable.
“The Atascadero Lake is drying up, and no one seems to care,” said Templeton resident Gary Thatcher, who walks his dog around the lake nearly every day. “As it is one of the few attractions the city has, I am concerned.”
The city-owned lake, connected to Atascadero Creek, is entirely dependent on rain, Thompson said. Atascadero saw less than half of its normal rain year this season, and the lake is losing about a half-inch of water per day due to evaporation, he added.
“It’s a tough issue right now. I hope we can hold it together until it starts raining again,” Thompson said.
Last month, the City Council approved a roughly $9,500 expense to buy the floating aerator fountains, which are about the size of a small car tire. They are connected to an electrical cord and will suck water from the lake’s surface and shoot it in the air in a V shape.
“That process aerates the water and mixes it and keeps it churning,” Thompson said. Aeration will also help with the smell, he added.
The city has previously rented equipment to pump air into the water to boost the oxygen levels.
Thatcher, the Templeton resident, said he saw the city adding water to the lake a few weeks ago. But the city hasn’t added water to the lake, Thompson said, since it would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to purchase that water from the Atascadero Mutual Water Co. However, a functional Atascadero Creek well operates at the south end of the lake in the spring, summer and fall. It has a low production that runs five or 10 minutes every hour.
“It (the well) does not generate enough water to keep up with summer evaporation,” Thompson said.