Planned drain down of Lake Morena worries neighbors

They fear economic, ecological disaster

CAMPO, Calif. - Residents in the East County are angry over a plan to drain down Lake Morena, a popular spot for fishing and recreation. The reason is to bolster the water supply for the city of San Diego.

Nick Muse was fishing with his friend, Andrew Rue on Tuesday.  

"It's unfortunate if they do that because I really like to fish this lake," said Muse.

Donald Gravalec is an attorney who lives near the lake. 

"It's going to dramatically decrease the shoreline, which is going to cause a large area of mud, sediment, silt and dead fish and what's going to happen when summer comes? The stench of rotting dead fish, dead animals and dead plant life is going to turn this into an ecological disaster," he said.

The lake is certainly a moneymaker: fishing, boating, camping. Various fees and events pumped $335,000 into the Campo-area economy in fiscal year 2010 to 2011 and $345,000 the next year and $380,000 this past year.

Another issue is if the water is safe to drink. Naomi Anderson, another concerned resident, told 10News, "When the water table decreases, the wells around here suffer badly. All of the contaminates that are in the water – we have high nitrates and high uranium right now – become more condensed and more toxic."

Alex Roth, spokesman for interim San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria, said, "The only alternative to taking water from Lake Morena reservoir is to buy it from wholesalers at a cost of $1.7 million that we don't have."

He explained that other reservoirs have had water siphoned into the city supply. Lake Morena is in the second tier. 

"Had we not needed this as a source of water supply, that body of water wouldn't have existed," said Roth. "It was built specifically as a water supply for the region."

San Diego County Supervisor Dianne Jacob worries about economic impact and fire danger. 

"This lake holds an emergency water supply.  What the city wants to do is use it one time, a one-time resource and then it's gone," she said. "This jeopardizes not only the recreational aspects of the lake, it's the groundwater for the people, but it's a firefighting resource, too."

Roth insisted, "It still will be viable. Sure, it'll be lower, but it'll be viable. We're talking about an area of water that's going to be as large as the San Diego Zoo."

Drain down begins next week.

NOTE: Our thanks to our media partners East County Magazine for their cooperation in reporting this story.

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