Water district threatens legal action over rising water levels

By Scott Graves

Triplicate staff writer

The waters of Lake Earl have receded slightly, but tensions are still running high over whether the lake should be breached.

In fact, history repeated itself last weekend when a group of unknown people took matters into their owns hands and began illegally digging away at the sandbar the separates the lake from the ocean.

At about the same time, members of the Pacific Shores Subdivision California Water District unanimously voted to pursue legal action against the many agencies and individuals embroiled in the issue.

The illegal attempt to breach the lake happened sometime late Friday night or early Saturday morning.

I went out on Saturday morning and saw the evidence myself, said, Bill Holtz, area manager of Lake Earl for the California Department of Fish and Game.

He became aware of the effort after concerned residents saw the attempted breach on the state-owned land and left messages at Holtz office.

Officials said that the attempted breach was done by a group of people using shovels and a small tractor of backhoe.

They made a pretty good effort, but they still have a ways to go, Holtz said.

He informed Fish and Game and Del Norte county officials about the attempted breach on Monday. He also notified other agencies involved in Lake Earl such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state Coastal Commission.

County and Fish and Game officials will keep an eye out for any more breach attempts, Holtz said. Concerned citizens also said they would keep an eye out for any suspicious activity, he said.

Meanwhile, Holtz has received permission from the California Coastal Commission to fill the sandbar back in.

Holtz hopes to use California Conservation Corps workers to repair the damage. The work may be finished by the end of the week, Holtz said.

Ernie Perry, the countys director of community development, informed the County Board of Supervisors about the attempted breach on Tuesday.

It is taking the law into their own hands, Perry said. They also opened themselves to tremendous legal exposure and physical danger.

If the lake had been breached, the suspects and equipment could have been washed out to sea, he said.

If caught, the suspects could face substantial fines from both state and federal agencies.

This isnt the first time someone has tried to illegally breach Lake Earl.

In 1995, two people successfully breached the lake, leaving it a mud hole for most of the summer.

Thomas Resch, then president of the Pacific Shores Homeowners Association, and Dwayne Smith, former president of the Pacific Shores Water District, pleaded guilty later that year for breaching the lake.

As far back as the late 1800s, a group of dairy farm workers reportedly used shovels to breach the lake. A week later, a group of mill workers reportedly filled it back in.

In a related matter, the board of directors for the Pacific Shores Subdivision California Water District unanimously voted on Saturday to pursue legal action against the various agencies involved in the Lake Earl issue.

The Water District was formed in 1986 to handle legal issues faced by some 40 percent of the the 1,500 people who own property in the subdivision, said Jim OConnell, current president of the district.

OConnell said the district has not yet decided what legal action it will take, but it will likely focus on the department of Fish and Game and the Del Norte County Health Department.

Every effort we have made to resolve this issue and protect our property rights has been wiped out by these agencies, OConnell said. It is time to look into the direction of legal action.

The district, he said, would like to see the lake breached and the level returned to what he called the historic 4-foot level.

The current level is just inches short of 10 feet, officials said.

The various agencies involved in the lake level debate are waiting to see what the lake level will do next, Holtz said.

Were at the threshold now. If we get any more rain, who knows what will happen, he said.

Both Holtz and Perry said the lake had receded slightly since last week, mostly through evaporation caused by the warm weather and winds.

We hope this drying trend will continue, Holtz said.

Meanwhile, the county is waiting for some final information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to apply for a temporary permit to breach the lake, Perry said.