First some general info regarding the low water level. The City of San Diego has been required to lower the water level by the California Division of Safety of Dams in order to do much needed repair work on the Hodges Dam. So in July of this year, they started drawing the water down from the Lake using a combination of the pump station connected to Olivenhain reservoir, the aqueduct to San Dieguito Reservoir and releasing water directly into the San Dieguito watershed downstream. The water level has subsequently been lowered to 40’ below the spillway. At this level the pump station can no longer pump water to the Olivenhain reservoir. See the link below for the most recent press release from the City for more details. The 275’ water level described, 40’ below the spillway, is misleading as it describes the level of the water in relation to sea level. The actual water depth is 75’, the spillway being at 115 from the Lake bed.
How will the water level affect the wildlife on Lake Hodges?
This is a good question with no precise answer. From my observations at this point in the season, the Lake level has not adversely affected the local wildlife. In fact with low muddy conditions some birds have fared very well. We had some mid-season avocet and stilt nests along with all the usual birds you’d expect to see. The exposed lake bed at the far east end of the reservoir creates a sizable wildlife corridor for larger mammals to move between the south and North side of the Lake.
However, the jury is out on how the water level will affect nesting this coming Spring, in particular the Grebe colony. The water level has recently be drawn down substantially in anticipation of the winter rains, to 270’. The water will rise again, but the City cannot let it rise above 275’ until the repair work is complete. At this level the current vegetation used by the Grebes to construct nests will be inaccessible. However, the Southern California climate lends itself to new vegetation growing fairly quickly. This may lead to favorable conditions depending on where the water level ends up. But one of the reasons for current repair work is to bring the Lake level back up to a level to resume operation of the pump station. This creates its own unique sets of problems for nesting Grebes. See the Grebe Nesting Colonies post and attached report.
To complicate matters, plans for the construction of a new dam are underway. The new dam will be constructed downstream, but should not affect the water level in the immediate future.
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