Water & Drought

Drought, low water levels at Lopez Lake make trash cleanup a breeze

The falling Lopez Lake water line is exposing once-submerged trash. Drink cans and bottles appear to be the majority.
The falling Lopez Lake water line is exposing once-submerged trash. Drink cans and bottles appear to be the majority. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

The drought plaguing California has had one local benefit: Groups are taking advantage of historically low water levels at Lopez Lake to collect trash that was previously inaccessible when the water was higher.

The Environmental Center of San Luis Obispo County (ECOSLO) will host a cleanup day at Lopez Lake on Saturday, to remove garbage that has collected along the shorelines as water levels dropped.

At the last lake cleanup in September, ECOSLO executive director Mary Ciesinski said the group collected 700 pounds of garbage, in spite of having roughly half the number of volunteers they normally have for cleanup days. The group has collected about 2,000 pounds of garbage since September 2014, including the trash collected last month, she said.

700 Pounds of garbage collected at Lopez Lake during the cleanup in September

“It’s kind of like making the best of the drought,” Ciesinski said. “We’ve been collecting so much this year that we hadn’t seen before.”

Lopez Lake has seen a dramatic drop in water levels in the past four years. On Tuesday, the reservoir was only 30.7 percent filled, with an average water elevation of 469 feet — the lowest October levels since 1992, when the average water elevation was 468 feet, according to SLO County Water data.

In contrast, water levels reached a 10-year peak in 2011, when the lake was 90 percent filled and the average water elevation was 517 feet.

As the water has fallen, groups such as ECOSLO have been able to get into areas surrounding the lake that were previously inaccessible, allowing them to collect different sorts of garbage along the shoreline that they wouldn’t normally see.

It’s kind of like making the best of the drought. We’ve been collecting so much this year that we hadn’t seen before.

Mary Ciesinski, ECOSLO Executive Director

In addition to the usual soda cans, glass bottles, cigarette butts and fishing wire they normally find, Ciesinksi said the group found a rusty bike, a couple of beach chairs and several yards of rusty metal chains.

“We’re seeing those things that were normally pretty heavy and would have sunk to the bottom of the lake,” Ciesinksi said. “But because the water is back farther than normal, we’re getting to those things now.”

She also noted that the group is finding items that she remembered from commercials and marketing several years before, indicating that they had been in the lake for some time.

Park Ranger Glenn Simpson said the areas with the most trash tend to be around the Lopez Lake Marina, or in the party coves where people park their boats.

Saturday’s cleanup could be the last of the year, Ciesinksi cautioned, depending on when the forecasted winter rains arrive.

“It’s important that we do this one now, in October, even though we got so much in September, because we don’t know when the rain will come and if we’ll be able to access these areas of the lake again any time soon,” Ciesinksi said.

Cleanup on Saturday

Meet at the Lopez Lake Marina, 6820 Lopez Drive, Arroyo Grande, at 9 a.m. Saturday. Check in at the ranger station for a free pass. Wear closed-toe shoes and bring water. All supplies are provided. You may bring your own gloves and bucket to help reduce single-material usage. Rain cancels the cleanup.

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