Lake Elsinore —- a success
For decades, Lake Elsinore was plagued by devastating fish kills, low lake levels and poor water quality that made recreation nearly impossible at Southern California’s largest natural lake.
Year after year, the lake suffered as harmful pollutants traveling through the 720-mile San Jacinto Watershed poured into Lake Elsinore, choking the lake’s oxygen supply and fueling destructive algae blooms. To make matters worse, evaporation caused lake levels to drop several feet every year.
Today, the 3,330-acre-foot lake is home to more than 500,000 healthy sport fish and attracts recreational enthusiasts from throughout the region who boat, fish, camp and enjoy other watersports and outdoor activities.
In fact, Lake Elsinore has become a model of sustainability, providing inspiration and information for authorities at the troubled Salton Sea, California’s largest lake. Officials with the Salton Sea Authority are looking at the vibrant Lake Elsinore as they create a restoration plan for the Salton Sea, which also has suffered from evaporation, fish kills and other similar problems.
The transformation at Lake Elsinore is the result of 10 years of diligent work by the Lake Elsinore & San Jacinto Watersheds Authority, a joint powers authority created after voters approved Proposition 13, a statewide water bond, in spring 2000. The five-member JPA has implemented multiple successful projects over the years to restore the watersheds and improve the quality of Lake Elsinore and neighboring Canyon Lake.
In fact, Lake Elsinore’s water quality has been hailed as the best ever, thanks to voters’ approval of Proposition 13 Water Bond and the authority’s prudent use of the bond monies.
One of the authority’s greatest challenges has been finding creative ways to boost oxygen levels in Lake Elsinore and Canyon Lake. Under harsh, oxygen-depleted water conditions, fish kills and algae blooms would impair the lake quality and detract the public from using the lake for recreational purposes. So the authority worked with its member agencies to install an aeration system that pumps air directly into Lake Elsinore. Aeration lines and lake-mixing fans circulate the oxygen there to prevent algae blooms and ultimately, fish kills.
To help stabilize lake levels at Lake Elsinore, the authority restored three groundwater wells that provide more than a billion gallons of groundwater annually through the Lake Elsinore Island Wells Project. To counteract the impacts of evaporation, the authority also funded the construction of treatment plant improvements and a recycled water pipeline into Lake Elsinore that delivers more than 5.5 million gallons of recycled water into the lake daily.
At Canyon Lake, the authority assisted with local dredging operations to prevent harmful sediment from flowing into Lake Elsinore and causing buildup of nutrients at the lake’s bottom. A future aeration and oxygen injection system is envisioned for Canyon Lake as the authority continues its water quality improvement work upstream.
Although the original Proposition 13 bond money is gone, the fruits of those dollars are evident throughout the watersheds today. The authority remains committed to restoring the environmental, economic and recreational vitality of Lake Elsinore, Canyon Lake and their upstream watersheds.
Phil Williams is chairman of the Lake Elsinore and San Jacinto Watersheds Authority.
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