I received an email from a reader who asked me how many inches of rain had to fall before Atascadero Lake begins to reappear. He also inquired about how many inches of rainfall we would need for the water to encircle the island, how much before the creeks begin to flow (into the lake) and finally, how many inches to make the lake water flow over the dam.
I couldn’t come up with any definitive answer, but having observed the lake’s ups and downs for the past 47 years, I can make some wild guesses.
First of all, a little history. The lake was there when the U.S. Army surveyed the 23,000-acre J.H. Henry Ranch at the turn of the 20th century as it considered establishing a permanent military training camp here. Troop maneuvers were held at “Camp Atascadero” from 1904 until 1912. The government considered building a dam where, currently, the three bridges sit to create a lake to ensure even more water was available for men, horses and mules.
But Henry, who owned the ranch, grew impatient with the government’s slowness in making a decision and sold the property to eastern publisher E.G. Lewis in 1913.
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Lewis’ workers enhanced the lake — and it has been the jewel of the community since. The island was created in the early 1960s with dirt gathered during a massive lake cleanup effort by San Luis Obispo County.
Although the lake has risen and fallen over its more than 100-year history, this is the first time in anyone’s memory that it went completely dry.
A few years ago, when the lake was very low (enough to expose the white infill line that you see today), a “March miracle” rain filled the lake to overflowing.
The creeks (and the lake) will begin to fill quickly when that happens. The small showers we’ve gotten so far this season are soaking into the extremely dry lakebed and creek beds. But I’ve noticed over the years that once we get a steady rain producing at least an inch over a 24-hour period, we’ll see the creeks and lake begin to “puddle,” and soon thereafter, flow.
The city likes to wait until the creek is flowing for a few days before it opens the pickup valve located beneath the three bridges area. And that, coupled with water that flows in from the south/west end, will fill the island and work its way to filling, and then spilling, over the dam near the little pedestrian bridge.
The experts say this will all begin to happen starting next month and going into February and maybe March.
Lon Allan’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Atascadero for nearly five decades and his column appears here every week. Reach Allan at 466-8529 or firstname.lastname@example.org.