Tiny Chollas Lake in southeastern San Diego, used exclusively for youth fishing, has been affectionately described as the jewel in an urban park and the community that surrounds it.
But the lake is filled with drinking water, and that’s a problem in the age of drought.
The city was pumping around 53 million gallons of water into the lake on an annual basis, as of 2008, at a cost of $140,000. U-T San Diego penciled that out to be the equivalent of 421 typical households in a typical year. But, after Governor Jerry’s mandatory restrictions kick in this summer (16% cut in San Diego), that will be enough for 501 homes.
The park was originally built as a reservoir in 1901 and was part of San Diego’s early water system. That usefulness disappeared and it was turned over to the city’s parks department in the 1960s as a youth fishing-only lake. The Oak Park neighborhood, according to AreaVibes, has a median housing value 43% lower than San Diego as a whole and a 17% lower median household income.
Crime is 36% higher. But it’s considered stable and diverse and AreaVibes gives it a solid 74 livability rating. The park has picnic tables, a basketball court and a jogging path; the lake attracts ducks, geese, egrets and herons. Only kids 15 and under can fish on the 16-acre lake and it’s free.
The lake is stocked with bass, catfish, trout, bluegill and sunfish. The park offers fishing derbies during the year and free equipment for participants. It is the only children’s fishing park in San Diego and the community does not want it to disappear.
But people don’t want their green lawns to disappear, either, and if they were making the call might grow fewer almonds in the desert before crisping their neighborhoods this summer.
California has only recently begun to face its stark choices and seriously reallocate what it now knows to be a diminishing critical resource, water. The governor’s rationing program and Delta plan (now stripped of environmental considerations) bring state government more clearly into the game of picking winners and losers in California’s ever-present, but newly amped up, water wars.
The city recently reiterated its commitment to keeping the lake and said in a statement:
“While turning off the water to Chollas Lake would seem to be a simple way to respond to the drought, the irreparable damage that would be done to the ecosystem surrounding the lake, in addition to the loss of an important public space, balances the equation. In fact, the amount of water used to maintain the lake is a small percentage of the city’s overall water use. The benefit provided to the community it serves is quite large.”
But things change. In 2008—dry times, but before this current drought began—U-T San Diego asked city officials if they would consider not pumping drinking water into the lake. They said only if the situation got worse and the city entered a Stage 2 water emergency.