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How are California's reservoirs?

After six years of drought, most of our popular manmade lakes are "full." But check before you go

BANNER HEADLINES last February 24 trumpeted the news: California's longest drought in recorded history was officially, well, history. On that date, Sierra snowpack contained enough water to hold out the possibility that many of the state's 1,336 reservoirs might, for the first time in years, be full again.

But before you toss the skis in the boat and head for your favorite lake, you should know that "full" is a relative term, a measure of historical averages as opposed to observed phenomena. Water level is not constant. Between flood control and water delivery commitments, most reservoirs never reach their maximum storage capacity. Even now, levels in many reservoirs are dropping as water is delivered to federal, state, and private users.

Although this year's snowpack is a given, one of the biggest factors determining summer reservoir levels is still an unknown--late-spring rainfall in the mountains. Gentle, cool rains leave the snowpack relatively intact, stretching mountain runoff well into summer. But a warm gully washer can cause rapid snowpack meltdown, resulting in serious flooding and, in the Sierra, the flushing of much of our most important water bank account out through the Golden Gate.

Still, by June, most of the major reservoirs supplied by Sierra runoff (such as Pine Flat Lake and Lake Oroville) will be as full as they ever get. (Most of the state's major natural lakes are full. Even Lake Tahoe was expected to reach its natural outflow into the Truckee River by May.) But west of the Central Valley, it's another story. Larger reservoirs (such as Lake Berryessa and Lake San Antonio) that depend solely on rainfall are likely to remain below average.

Water levels of reservoirs farther inland look better. For example, reservoirs on the Colorado River, which are managed by different agencies from those in California, are on the rise. Lake Powell, most of which is in Utah, is gaining storage for the first time since 1987. Lake Mead, in Nevada, is expected to remain only about 15 feet below its spillway through the summer. And as in years past, lakes Mojave (on the Arizona-Nevada border) and Havasu (on the Arizona-California border) are both expected to be within normal summer ranges.

12 CALIFORNIA FAVORITES

Following are fullness forecasts (water officials' estimates based on historic averages on June 1) and summer recreation conditions on a dozen of California's most popular reservoirs. Lakes are listed north to south and numbered to correspond to the map on page 32; for scale, surface area at capacity has been noted. For trip-planning information, up-to-the-minute lake levels, and reservations, call ahead.

1. Clair Eagle Lake

Surface area: 16,400 acres.

Fullness forecast: 85 percent.

Recreation: The lake, also called Trinity, will be fuller this summer than it has been in seven years. All five marinas, its houseboat rental facilities, and six boat ramps will be open, as will 12 Forest Service and 3 private campgrounds (Alpine View, however, will be closed). Nearby Lewiston Reservoir (one marina, four campgrounds) will stay full for good fishing.

Where to call: For lake level, call U.S. Forest Service Weaverville Ranger District, (916) 623-2121. For a visitor's guide and houseboat listings, call Shasta Cascade Wonderland Association, 243-2643. For more information, cal Trinity County Chamber of Commerce, (916) 623-6101.

2. Shasta Lake

Surface area: 29,500 acres on four main arms.

Fullness forecast: Full.

Recreation: Perhaps California's most popular boating lake, Shasta has 11 marinas and 17 Forest Service and 5 private campgrounds. At least eight companies rent houseboats (most are booked by now for weekends, but check for cancellations).

Where to call: For lake level, camping information, and maps, call Shasta Lake Visitor Information Center, (916) 275-1589. For a visitor's guide and houseboat listings, call Shasta Cascade Wonderland Association, (916) 243-2643.

3. Lake Oroville

Surface area: 15,800 acres.

Fullness forecast: 95 to 100 percent.

Recreation: Two marinas service fishermen and water-skiers alike. Houseboats are available (check for cancellations), as are campsites for tents, RVs, groups, and boaters. The north end of Thermalito Forebay (600 surface acres) offers a swimming beach, picnic tables, and ramadas, and is open to nonpowerboats only.

Where to call: For lake level and general information, call Lake Oroville State Recreation Area, (916) 538-2219. For boating and fishing information and rentals, call Lime Saddle Marina, 877-2414; or Bidwell Canyon Marina, 589-3165 or (800) 637-1767. For Loafer Creek Campground information, call (916) 538-2217. For reservations at Bidwell Canyon RV site and South Bloomer group campground, call Mistix, (800) 444-7275.

4. Folsom Lake

Surface area: 11,930 acres.

Fullness forecast: Full.

Recreation: One of the most popular lakes in the state, Folsom is likely to draw 3 million visitors this summer. It's open to all types of boating and features a full-service marina. You can rent horses, canoes, sailboats, sailboards, and, new this year, water scooters. Swimming beaches and hiking and equestrian trails abound. A 32-mile paved bicycle path leads to Old Sacramento, and there's a new 8-mile advanced mountain-bike trail.

Where to call: For lake level and general information, call Folsom Lake State Recreation Area, (916) 988-0205. For campground reservations, call Mistix, (800) 44-7275.

5. Lake Berryessa

Surface area: 19,250 acres.

Fullness forecast: 60 percent.

Recreation: Seven private camping resort marinas ring the lake, but low water will prevent launching at one. Boat and houseboat rentals are available.

Where to call: For lake level, call Bureau of Reclamation, (707) 966-2111. For a recording of general information, call Lake Berryessa Chamber of Commerce, (800) 726-1256.

6. New Melones Lake

Surface area: 12,500 acres.

Fullness forecast: 50 to 60 percent.

Recreation: Although still low, the lake's level will rise enough to drown part of the popular Camp Nine to Parrots Ferry whitewater run on the Stanislaus River arm. Launch ramps will be back, and the marina will be open this year (houseboat rentals are probably still available). Both of the lake's large campgrounds will be open.

Where to call: For lake level, call Bureau of Reclamation, (209) 536-9049. For river-running information, call Friends of the River, (415) 771-0400. For boating information, call New Melones Lake Marina, (209) 785-3300.

7. Hetch Hetchy Reservoir

Surface area: 1,972 acres.

Fullness forecast: Full.

Recreation: Hetch Hetchy offers 25 camping sites accessible only by backcountry trekkers (a wilderness permit is required). Sites can be used a maximum of two nights, but not consecutively. (In other words, you can stay near the reservoir one night on your way into the backcountry and one night on your way out.)

Where to call: For backcountry camping information, call (209) 372-0265.

8. Don Pedro Lake

Surface area: 13,00 acres.

Fullness forecast: Full.

Recreation: This large lake features plenty of creature comforts: two full-service marinas, several snack bars and restaurants, a grocery store, a coin-operated laundry, and hot showers. All kinds of boating are permitted; there's even a waterskiing slalom course. You can choose from 540 camping sites or stay overnight on your boat.

Where to call: For lake level, general information, and camping reservations call Don Pedro Recreation Agency, (209) 852-2396. For fishing and boating information, call Don Pedro Marina, 852-2369; or Moccasin Point Marina, 989-2383.

9. San Louis Reservoir

Surface area: 12,520 acres.

Fullness forecast: 80 to 90 percent.

Recreation: San Luis, fed by the California Aqueduct, is the largest off-stream storage area in the world. Although it regularly loses 200 feet by late summer, it stays open to all boats, as well as to water scooters and sailboards. It's popular with fishermen, swimmers, and campers, and a 157-acre minibike trail area attracts enthusiasts of that unique avocation.

Where to call: For lake level or general information, call Four Rivers District, (209) 826-1196. For camping reservations, call Mistix, (800) 444-7275.

10. Pine Flat Lake

Surface area: 4,268 acres.

Fullness forecast: Full.

Recreation: Pine Flat is open to all boats, including houseboats, and offers two full-service marinas and overnight mooring. It rents fishing boats and equipment, pontoons, and water scooters. There's also swimming, but hiking is limited to a self-guided nature trail. The more than 100 developed and undeveloped tent and RV sites include a wheelchair-accessible site but not at the shoreline. Several outfitters offer rafting on the Kings River.

Where to call: For lake level and general information, call the Pine Flat Lake office, (209) 787-2589. For camping and rafting information, call Trimmer Ranger Station, 855-8321.

11. Lake San Antonio

Surface area: 5,687 acres.

Fullness forecast: 70 percent.

Recreation: This small jewel is at its highest level since 1989, which is not saying much. But despite its low level, the lake will be in full operation this summer, with four campgrounds and two full-service marinas.

Where to call: For lake level and general information, call Monterey County Parks Department, (805) 472-2311. For camping and boating information, call Lake San Antonio Resorts, (800) 310-2313.

12. Isabella Lake

Surface area: 11,000 acres.

Fullness forecast: Full.

Recreation: While Isabella is open to all types of boating, as well as water scooters and water-skiers, it's becoming a very popular place for windsurfing, too, thanks to good afternoon winds. You can rent what you need from any of the three full-service marinas. Nearby are playgrounds, a gold course, a nature study area, a rifle and trap range, and whitewater rafting on the Kern River. There are 800 developed sites for tents and RVs, 6 group camps, and several free primitive camp areas on the lake.

Where to call: For lake level and general information, call the visitor center, (619) 379-5646. For camping reservations, call Mistix, (800) 283-2267. For tee times and reservations, call Kern Valley Golf & Country Club, (619) 376-2828.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Author:Phillips, Jeff; Conour, Dale
Publication:Sunset
Date:Jun 1, 1993
Words:1619
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