Supervisors decide not to breach the lakes

By Jessica Cejnar, The Triplicate January 31, 2014 04:41 pm

Lakes Earl and Tolowa are already low enough, thanks

Due to the drought, county officials on Tuesday backed away from the annual practice of breaching lakes Earl and Tolawa.

The decision had some residents living near the lagoon breathing a sigh of relief. According to some people who have nearby wells, breaching the lake would have had a negative impact on their water levels.

“We all have wells that are rather shallow and depend on the water table being high enough to provide us with enough water to get through the year,” said Michele Driscoll, who lives on the east side of the lake. “The lake is quite low, and for those of us like my family and myself who depend on that water to grow food, it would be really catastrophic to lose our well.”

Del Norte County has permits with the California Coastal Commission, the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to breach Lake Earl at certain times of year, according to the county’s staff report. However, two of those agencies recommended not breaching the lagoon this year, said Heidi Kunstal, deputy director of building and planning.

Del Norte is authorized to breach the lagoon after Sept. 1 if the water level is at 8 feet or greater. The county may breach the lake again on Feb. 15 if the water level is at 5 feet or greater.

Lake Earl’s water level has slowly risen to more than 6 feet over the past several months, according to the county’s staff report. 

The Board took no action on the matter, although District 3 Supervisor Mike Sullivan asked if the lagoon could be breached if the weather changes and flooding conditions occur in the area. 

Kunstal said the county could request an emergency permit to breach the lake in a critical situation. Those permits are not often approved, she said.

“I have lived there for 38 years and my neighbors and I have always felt that our water level varied with the fluctuation of the lake,” said Don Gillespie, who resides about a mile from the lake. “It’s about 10 feet lower now than it is normally at this time of year.”

 Crescent City resident Richard Miles spoke about climate change and its potential effects on Del Norte County. 

“We are in the middle of a drought and that drought is starting to affect our local dairy industry,” Miles said. “I believe a vote today to drain Lake Earl is a mistake.

While he acknowledged the negative impacts of the drought, Sullivan said Lake Earl should be managed so its level is consistent.

“I don’t think it’s acceptable to have the lake down to 1 or 2 feet, but at the same time I don’t think it’s acceptable having it at 10 feet and flooding people out of their homes,” he said. “Instead of going through a permitting process, let’s get to something that will allow the level to stay at a consistent lake level the whole year.”

Supervisor Martha McClure said that lagoons breach naturally periodically.

“I think one needs to look at the ecology,” she said. “A lagoon at a constant depth doesn’t do the lagoon service.”

Supervisor Gerry Hemmingsen said it would be better if the county’s permits to breach the lake weren’t dictated by “drop-dead dates.”

The county’s Coastal Development Permit and Army Corps permit to breach the lake expires next year.

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