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Oct 10

Dredging memories of Laguna Lake

 1977-laguna-lake.jpg

August 4, 1978

In his novel “East of Eden“, John Steinbeck spoke of a thirty year water cycle in the Salinas River Valley. Five or six wet years “…and the land would shout with grass.” Six or seven average years of rainfall would follow and then would come the dry years.
“And it never failed that during the dry years the people forgot about the rich years, and during the wet years they lost all memory of the dry years. It was always that way.”

We have experienced dry years recently. Climate change has been in the news. Dry years can spell disaster for ranchers. In 1977 drought had shrunk much of Laguna Lake to a cracked muddy pond.
By the following year water was back in the lake but a funding drought was then in the news. California passed Proposition 13 on June 6, 1978 changing the structure of government funding state. Ripples from this stone in the pond are still slapping the shore today as the state wrestles with what seems to be a perpetual budget crisis.

The then Telegram-Tribune ran an uncredited file photo from the previous year along with an uncredited current photo of weeds growing out of the mud. Now mayor David Romero was then the San Luis Obispo’s public services director.

Prop. 13 greens a troubled lake

By Glen Scott
Staff Writer

1978-08-04-laguna-lake.jpgGlistening green above the wind rippled waters of Laguna Lake are some unexpected evidences of the impact of Proposition 13 on San Luis Obispo: water weeds.
The vegetation is thickest at the northern end of the lake where Prefumo Creek unloads its burden of silt during winter storms.
In the spring, sunlight penetrates easily to the bottom of the silted lake, encouraging the sudden growth of underwater grasses.
The vegetation provides food, shelter and hiding places for thousands of swimming and swooping creatures: bass, bluegill, bullhead catfish, bullfrogs, redwing blackbirds, ducks herons and gulls.
The fast growing weeds occasionally tangle fishing lines and make rowing difficult.
But experts say thee vegetation gives warning of dramatic changes in the character of the lake:
It’s becoming a marsh.
Last year, when drought had shrunk Laguna Lake to a brown puddle, a committee was formed to study it. The committee suggested that the city hire a consultant to study the impact of dredging some of the silt from the lake.
According to city Public Services Director David F. Romero, passage of Proposition 13, the tax-cutting initiative, doomed a $53,000 budget item that would have paid for a consultant.
Dredging the lake, Romero said Thursday, could cost “well over $1 million.”
State or federal money might be available for such a project, he said but the city would have to come up with a master plan for the lake and an environmental impact report to qualify for grants or loans.
Debate on the best use of Laguna Lake, Romero said, has flared frequently wince the first homes were built on its shores 17 years ago.
One alternative to dredging the lake to deepen it and kill weeds, Romero said, might be to allow it to become a marsh–and eventually a bird sanctuary.
The public services director said a scheme to fill the lake with treated water from the city’s sewage plant on Prado Road had been approved by the state. That project will knock about $80,000 from the city’s annual water bill by providing irrigation water for parks.
But, the experts say, nutrient-rich water encourages the growth of even more water weeds.

Since the late 1970′s the sewer plant has been upgraded and some of the water will be used to irrigate city parks. To the best of my knowledge the lake has never been dredged. Wind surfers used to come to the lake in droves but now falling off the board risks planting the mast into mud.

At least the name will no longer be redundant after nature takes its course.

Laguna Meadow.

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