There’s a battle brewing right now between the City and County of San Diego – a battle that may result in the draining of a major lake of the County. Interim Mayor Todd Gloria wants the County to give the city $1.7 million or else the City will drain Lake Morena, near Campo and the border.
If the lake is drained to the level that Gloria wants, the County Parks and Recreation warns that there could be a massive fish kill, algae blooms, and a damage to the local economy that thrives on the lake 46 miles east of San Diego. Lake Morena attracted 1600 overnight campers last year who lived within the City of San Diego, plus it served an estimated 10,000 visitors overall.
In addition, the lake serves fire fighters as it provides them with a ready and accessible body of water.
Miriam Raftery of the East County Magazine wrote extensively of the battle between two entities, and here is her report:
Interim Mayor Todd Gloria ignores objections over negative impacts including fish kills, fire danger
By Miriam Raftery / East County Magazine
Unless the County agrees to fork over $1.7 million, San Diego’s interim Mayor Todd Gloria has announced his approval of plans for the City of San Diego to drain down Lake Morena to 2,967 feet and transfer the water to Barrett and Otay Lakes. His decision ignores warnings from Supervisor Dianne Jacob and a report by County Parks and Recreation staff, which warns that such action could have “negative impacts on public safety, the environment, recreation and the local economy.”
In a letter to Gloria on September 30, Jacob wrote, “I can’t emphasize enough that jeopardizing public safety, the environment, and recreational opportunities in turn for a one-time cash savings is the imprudent thing to do.”
When Bob Filner was Mayor, he prevented a proposed draining of Lake Morena. But his successor, Gloria, supports the plan that feeds San Diego’s water needs at the expense of residents who value the beauty and recreational opportunities at the reservoir in rural East County.
Jacob opposes the drawdown and noted that the lake is used by firefighters to battle wildfires. She asked that any drawdown be delayed until January. Further, she asked that the city consider a compromise of not allowing the water level to fall below 2980 feet – 13 feet higher than what the City proposes, after already draining water levels four feet earlier this year. She also asked the City to first notify stakeholders, including businesses and residences who might be impacted by drawdown plans.
The County Parks and Recreation report warned that the drawdown could cause massive fish kills, algae blooms, and leave lake view cabins without waterfront views.
Lake Morena, located 46 miles east of San Diego, drew 1600 overnight campers last year who were residents of the City of San Diego and served an estimated 10,000 visitors overall.
But Gloria, in a response dated October 14, informed Jacob that the city intends to go ahead with the massive drawdown “to efficiently utilize local water supply resources and reduce the purchase of expensive imported water. “ He said the city’s plan would leave 113 acres of water surface area for recreational areas, an area about the size of the San Diego Zoo.
To limit the drawdown to the 2980 feet requested by Supervisor Jacob, the City would have to purchase extra imported water, Gloria stated, making clear the City will not foot that bill. Instead, he proposed that the County purchase from the City 2,128 acre feet of water at a cost of $1,716,489 ($807 per acre foot) if the County wants to keep the lake at the level proposed by Jacob.
ECM has asked Supervisor Jacob’s office if such an offer will be considered and to what extent such costs might be offset by recreational user fees that will be lost if the lake becomes undesirable to campers, fishermen and other recreational visitors.
Gloria claimed the City will “continue to notify key stakeholders” of this and future water transfers, btu cited only the Cleveland National Forest, International Boundary and Water Commission, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
No mention was made by Gloria about notifying area residents or businesses, as Jacob had requested.
Frank Gormlie says
I’m hoping Miriam R is okay with our repost. It’s an important story and needs to get out. Christ, the U-T thinks that Gloria can do no wrong. Neither does he.
Frank – Yes, I’m glad you’re reprinting and getting word out on this. I just found out the City is selling 50 million gallons of water to SDG&E for its substation construction in East County at the same time it claims it has to drain Lake Morena. If the city needs water so much, maybe they should have told SDG&E “no.” It appears this may be about money, not a water shortage. That said I don’t have the exact number of gallons that the city plans to drain from Morena.
Bruce Cunningham says
Gloria is not Filner’s successor, he is only the temporary occupant of the office of the mayor and should not be making major decisions like this
Bill & Pat Holtwick says
Totally AGREE with you, regarding your comment, Bruce and Miriam! By DRAINING the water from Lake Morena, is quite devastating to the people who live within the Village of Lake Morena… as we do!
It’s AMAZING that the City of San Diego (Todd Gloria) DEMANDS that the water be drained from Lake Morena and that ENDANGERS everyone if there were a fire (talk of closing down the Cal Fire Station now, in Lake Morena… FIRE protection being withdrawn, also) wouldn’t be able to survive it, very well. The helicopters use their buckets to drop into the lake, in order to pick up water and fly it over onto the fires. With it being SO LOW, and also the fact that the fish will NOT be able to survive, and then NO water for the Emergency Crews to get water from… this is a DAMN death sentence for us here, in Lake Morena, and the entire ‘back country’ too. SDG&E has got their FINGERS IN THE PIE, continually. Just as people out here had voted NO on the Sunrise Power Link… went through anyway! Created nothing but havoc for our community, and made Alpine a ‘ghost town’ because the business couldn’t function.. closed their doors because the loss of sales/revenue to stay alive; along with who knows.. Cancer has affected numerous residents of Campo since the Power Link was put into place.
The City of San Diego should take care of the broken water mains/old pipes within the streets of their town. Spend the time and money on CORRECTING/FIXING them, instead of having the pipes CONTINUALLY break, then ‘our’ precious water is being spilled down the roadways and then into the sewer drains. Plus, not to mention the ‘sink’ holes that our great City of San Diego evidently seems to ‘not care’ about the people who live along these streets, and the businesses that these totally lose revenue from because no one can use the streets.
Anna Daniels says
I am concerned by the silence of our city attorney on not only this particular issue but a number of other ones. I’d like to know more about the limits and privileges of an interim mayor. There seems to be a lack of transparency and accountability.
Judy Swink says
According to the City Charter Article XV, Section 265(i):
“During the period of time when an appointment or election is pending to fill a vacancy in the Office of Mayor, the presiding officer of the Council shall be vested with the authority to supervise the staff remaining employed in the Office of the Mayor, to direct and exercise control over the City Manager in managing the affairs of the City under the purview of the Mayor and *to exercise other power and authority vested in the Office of the Mayor when the exercise of such power and authority is required by law*. This limited authority would include circumstances where the expeditious approval of a legislative action is necessary to meet a legal requirement imposed by a court or another governmental agency. Such limited authority would not include the exercise of the power of veto or any other discretionary privilege which is enjoyed by a person appointed or elected to the Office of Mayor. The presiding officer, while acting under this section pending the filling of a mayoral vacancy, shall not lose his or her rights as a Member of the Council.”
In my reading, Todd Gloria has been exercising powers that are not available to an Interim Mayor. What law is requiring him to transfer water from Lake Morena or to threaten the County with loss of water in Lake Morena if the County doesn’t pay the city?
Lori Saldaña says
Battles over fresh water will be increasing as more people put more demand on reduced supplies. This week the City Council voted to increase the price of water, and will likely need to continue to do so in the years ahead.
However, broader focussed, distributed watershed-based water collection/conservation systems would do more good and capture more water than draining an existing lake/reservoir.
The city has shown some leadership: they provide subsidies for removing turf, and/or installing rainwater catchments. And they are supposed to require all houses install low flow toilets and showerheads, but enforcement is sketchy. (This last one was due to a legal settlement with the Sierra Club, nearly 20 years ago, related to reducing wastewater discharge via the Pt. Loma Outfall, and conserving water.)
Other suggestions/methods for conserving/retaining rainwater in ways other than backcountry reservoirs include:
RESIDENTIAL: turn every house into a mini-reservoir, by requiring “triple pipe” in new housing designs, so all new homes have municipal, recycled (purple pipe) and rainwater systems. (Some regions of Australia are already doing this, due to prolonged drought down under; they give the option of solar or rainwater or both; most choose both.) Given the escalating cost of water, this will pay for itself over the life of the house. The gutters/cisterns will be used to catch/store water to be used for landscaping and other non-potable needs, though some people drink rainwater and prefer it over municipal supplies.
Also, subsidize retrofits of existing homes that add these rainwater harvesting elements.
INFRASTRUCTURE: Require new parking lots and adjacent commercial developments install large underground cisterns with drainage/basic filtration systems designed to capture/filter rainwater runoff . Use this water onsite for landscaping vs directing millions of gallons of rainwater into storm drains and out to sea, often carrying contaminants from yards, streets, etc. as we do now.
Over the last 3 years, I’ve done some of this at my 50 yr. old house, including: added 2, 200 gallon rainwater tanks (one filled completely overnight with recent rains) to use on plants; installed 2 low flow toilets; installed greywater system from washing machine to front yard; put in attachments to shower/bath drain pipes, that are ready for a greywater system to trees in back yard (waiting for city to finish making its permitting changes).
So… cumulatively, these changes will do much more good than draining down Morena. Time for some better leadership on these water issues.
La Playa Heritage says
The City of San Diego owns the subsurface water rights all the way east to Campo. Plus the surface water right to Lake Morena, San Vicente, El Capitan, etc.
The rich County of San Diego has a Billion in Reserves siting in the bank. At any time the County who is in charge of the Unincorporated areas could pay the water bill to keep Lake Morena full on the County’s dime. The County should pay up, but only after negotiations, and public hearings at City Council, and the County Board of Supervisors.
Lori Saldaña says
Thanks for that Information La Playa. I was unaware of groundwater rights. That said, the county and city would be better served in the long run to negotiate a new sustainability plan for these water uses. Agree public hearings would be in order, and also some input from interested parties already working on water availability/use/reuse etc.
There is a “Bay Council” working group made up of several SD enviro organizations, that has been focussed on water use, tho focus has been more coastal. They are also looking at watershed management, which is what this is all about.
Jennifer Whitcomb says
draining it would be devastating for Lake Barrett. Lake Barrett is one of the top 5 bass fishing lakes., Lake barrett has already been drained to 50 percent on only 20 months.
I’m calling BS on this. Lake barrett offer fishermen the best bass Fishing in socal .the city makes 150k a year on fishermen. Morena has carp and crap l kill baby bass. in five carp would devastated the bass fishing at Lake barrett…
We moved to Lake Morena area up on a hill for open spaces along with the million dollar beautiful lake view. How dare San Diego interim mayor Todd Garcia demand that the county pay or they will drain our lake. What about our water table levels, we depend on a well to provide us with water. If anything, if our water is going to be taken we think the City of San Diego should be paying US, along with reimbursement for loss of property value, since our lake view will be gone When we have to dig a new well since the City of San Diego has taken our water we will also sending them that bill. We had the SDG&E Power Link towers shoved down our throats, how is it that Alpine gets theirs underground and we have to put up with UGLY tinker toy towers above ground. The towers are to the south of us, ruining that view. Now no lake to the West. Interim Mayor Garcia does not have the power or right to make such a demand. Channel 10 showed an attorney that is a local that does want the lake draining to occur. We did not get his name written down so if anybody has his name and number please email me. The irreparable damage draining the lake would do is beyond comprehensible, the funds that would no longer be collected and the summer income put into the economy of this small town nonexistent. Is the city of San Diego going to fix these things/reimburse us for our losses after they drain our lake and the money lost. We live on 8 secluded acres 1/2 mile+ off of paved roads. No one can see our property except from the air, for the last year we have been threatened and terrorized because we have a few big rigs and trailers on our land. This land is ours not the counties, we pay our taxes but also see other property on main roads with big rigs and trailers yet these people are not being endlessly harassed. We do not know why we can’t keep our personal property on our property. The only answer we get is cause the county says so. We have had 3 yards taken away from us by the county and cal trans, currently we do not have the money to pay for a yard to park these trucks and trailers along with the fact that they are not currently in use. These vehicle are historical vehicles, along with being one of the few things we have not been stripped of. Why is code enforcement so hell bent on taking away one of the few possessions we own. This has been explained to County Code enforcement each and every time they send another citation and increase the lien on our house. It would be understandable if we were in the city in a regular tract home residential area, but on 8 acres not visible from the main road.Please!!!!!!!!!! maybe interim mayor Garcia can explain this to us, while he is explaining why we should give up our water to the City of San Diego. We do not have fire hydrants like the city that lake is our fire defense. How about they conserve like the rest of us. We see no reason I should be without my view and water we paid extra for, for the convenience of the City of San Diego. We believe the empty non usable lake with dead fish smell will at least 1.7 million worse to look at than our trucks and trailer that can not be seen and are not bothering our direct neighbors.