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Pipeline built by volunteers helps keep Atascadero Lake afloat

Paul Murphy, president of Friends of Atascadero Lake, stands in front of the lake. His organization raised money for a pipeline to channel well water into Atascadero Lake to add to its water supply and offset evaporation.
Paul Murphy, president of Friends of Atascadero Lake, stands in front of the lake. His organization raised money for a pipeline to channel well water into Atascadero Lake to add to its water supply and offset evaporation. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

A new pipeline flowing well water into Atascadero Lake will stave off evaporation and be the new lifeblood for creatures such as dragonflies, water striders, worms and crustaceans that live at the lake.

A nonprofit, volunteer-led group called Friends of Atascadero Lake has spent the past two years planning and coordinating the construction of a pipeline that delivers water from a nearby well on private property to the lake, which is Atascadero’s hub for city events such as the wine festival, nearby zoo events like the Ice Cream Zoofari and Brew at the Zoo, weddings, banquets and more.

The 3-inch diameter PVC pipe channels water from a well the group designed and built on land owned by Jens and Linda Hansen on Portola Road. The Hansens agreed to let the group establish the pipeline to maintain the lake’s water so it doesn’t dry out again.

The project could have cost something like $250,000 if the city had taken it on, but we were able to save a lot of money through the donations.

Paul Murphy, president of nonprofit group Friends of Atascadero Lake

Before last season’s rainfall of 15.5 inches in Atascadero — just short of its average of 17.42 inches, according to Atascadero Mutual Water Co. — the lake went dry, and many of the frogs, snails, water beetles and other species that depended on its water to survive died off.

The pipeline — finished about two weeks ago — extends about 1,000 feet and connects the well to an existing storm drain that flows into the lake. Filipponi & Thompson Drilling Inc. donated its services for the project.

The cost of the pipeline is expected to be about $25,000, which Friends of Atascadero Lake raised for the effort.

“This first started out as a concept, and we had to figure out how to pay for it,” said Paul Murphy, the group’s president. “We had a geologist tell us the best place to put it. And then the well-drilling guys went and built that well and sent us a bill of zero. The project could have cost something like $250,000 if the city had taken it on, but we were able to save a lot of money through the donations.”

The group has the ability to turn the flow on and off and opens the valve between 12 and 18 hours per day.

“We expect to turn it off by the end of September,” Murphy said. “By then, the rains hopefully will kick in.”

Murphy said the city’s repair pipeline that channels water from Atascadero Creek, which was partially fixed earlier this year, still doesn’t work properly, though some water still is channeling in from the creek.

The new pipeline provides the lake with enough water to prevent rapid evaporation, which takes place on toasty summer days.

The lake is almost half-full but has faced four years of well-below average rainfall.

15.5

John Lindsey, a PG&E meteorologist, said Atascadero’s rainfall totals were a mere 5 to 6 inches a year in each of the four years preceding the most recent rain season. In 2010-11, 21.5 inches of rain fell in Atascadero because of heavy rainfall in December that year that dumped several inches, Lindsey said.

Atascadero City Councilman Bob Kelley credited Friends of Atascadero Lake with rescuing the lake.

“The city had zero intentions of filling the lake up,” Kelley said. “ These are very significant donations.”

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