Heavy rains, floods get action

March 26, 2003 12:00 am

By Jennifer Henion

Triplicate staff writer

Two groups long embattled over Lake Earl came together yesterday agreeing that the coastal lagoon should be drained into the ocean.

Because lagoon waters are up to 10.5 feet above sea level and flooding roads and private lands, the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to declare an emergency.

Members of environmental groups who normally advocate high lake levels watched the proceedings with landowners wanting low lake levels and supported the board's decision.

"It's unfortunate that all of this rain is causing so many problems for the residents there. Breaching is indeed necessary at this point," said environmentalist Sandy Jerabek.

Other local environmentalists who usually deliver passionate speeches to the board to keep the lake high also recommended releasing the waters.

County employees may breach the lagoon today if permission comes from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other state and federal agencies with jurisdiction over it.

"It could happen tomorrow, but more likely on Thursday," said Ernie Perry, director of the county's Community Development Department.

On Monday, ecologist Kelly Reid of the Army Corps indicated that permission may not be forthcoming, yet Perry said yesterday that the two are working it out.

The operation of draining the lagoon, which rises as rains and swollen creeks wash into it, involves digging a trench into the sandbar that separates the lagoon from the ocean.

Usually, within weeks of a breach, ocean tides force the pushed-aside sand back into place, sealing the lagoon to fill again.

Making the decision to breach the lagoon is usually fraught with heavy debate and some hard feelings between the five county supervisors and different groups of private citizens.

In fact, the debate has volleyed on and off for the last 100 years.

But now that the California Department of Fish and Game owns much of the affected wetland and has reportedly completed a management plan, the conflict is expected to end.

That document along with its environmental impact report was promised nine months ago, but still is not in public hands.

It is expected to set a breaching regime that will accommodate both landowners and the wildlife Fish and Game was created to protect.

"This board is put under this pressure every year because state and federal regulators are not doing their job. Will we ever put this to rest?" said Supervisor Chuck Blackburn.

This week's breaching will be the third attempt this rainy season. The first attempt was unsuccessful.