Plan to protect Laguna Lake to be presented to SLO City Council

As mucky shorelines and shallow water threaten San Luis Obispo’s Laguna Lake, the city is once again attempting a plan to resurrect it.

A 10-year conservation plan to manage the 344-acre reserve at a cost of more than $10 million will be presented to the City Council on Tuesday night.

Bob Hill, natural resources manager for the city, plans to incorporate the area into San Luis Obispo’s Natural Resources Program to better protect the numerous rare plant and animal species found in the area and help the lake itself.

The lake has long been a favorite spot for wildlife such as ducks and white pelicans as well as a place of recreation including sailing, windsurfing, kayaking and, at one time, fishing.

Cal Poly engineering students even use the lake to test and train for an annual concrete canoe challenge.

The naturally occurring lake has suffered from excess silt buildup for the last 40 years. Coupled with the current drought, portions of the lake are now all but dry.

“We are now in the third year of a prolonged drought,” Hill said. “If you go out to the lake today, you will find it dry in the westerly portion and the center of the lake where it is the shallowest.

“Laguna Lake is fed entirely with rainwater. When we don’t have a lot of rain, it will start to go dry through evaporation.”

Hill said he does not expect a massive fish die-off similar to what happened at Atascadero Lake because Laguna Lake is much larger and there are still deeper pools the fish can access.

The problems at Laguna Lake have been a long time coming.

In the 1960s, Prefumo Creek was re-routed into the lake and the southeastern portion of the lake area was excavated and developed — creating what the city calls a “long-term management challenge.”

As the silt continues to wash down from the nearby hills, the lake continues to grow more and more shallow, making it impossible to use for many of the activities for which people once cherished it.

“All lakes fill with sediment, but with the Prefumo Creek rerouted, the sediment rates are growing faster than geological time,” Hill said. “We are now seeing the changes occurring in our lifetime.”

Plans to dredge the lake have been tossed around City Hall for years, but the costly price tag associated with dredging has prevented it from happening.

Dredging was slated to occur within the last few years but in 2011 the city, faced with $4 million in budget cuts, once again punted the project.

Now residents are again pleading with the city to do something before the resource they value is gone completely.

Bob Collins, who has owned a home on the shore of Laguna Lake for 18 years, has watched the lake decline.

The view of the lake from Madonna Road, where most motorists catch a glimpse of it, is disconcerting because it appears to have plenty of water. The lake is at its deepest there — about eight feet deep — but the rest of the lake is in trouble, he said.

“It is impossible to dredge the entire lake, but I am hoping the city will come up with a partial dredge and give some extra depth to the lake so the debris can come down,” Collins said.

The city’s latest plan does include dredging portions of the lake but also focuses on restoring eroded creek banks above the lake and creating additional sediment basins. The option of using recycled water to increase its capacity is also being considered.

The plan also includes an accessible loop trail, a boardwalk and viewing platforms for public use.

But who will pay for it?

Nearby property owners will likely be asked to help share the cost.

A plan to create a community facilities district is being discussed by the city. Lakefront parcels could be assessed as much as $958 annually with other property owners in the reserve charged as much as $389 a year. The city would also use grants and general fund money to help pay the costs.

Ultimately, a two-thirds vote or 67 percent of affected property owners will need to pass the proposed district.

The concept of an assessment doesn’t bother Collins.

“If this is what it takes to help slow down the process, I am more than willing,” he said.

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