MWD Prepares for EL Nino Season

Stranded Dock off of Gibralter Road

Many private docks around Big Bear Lake are either stranded or nearly stranded because of the falling lake level.  The Municipal Water District encourages dock owners to secure their docks for the Winter in case of a significant El Nino event.

The drought over the last several years has definitely impacted Big Bear Lake…let’s hope the lake fills up this Winter!  Article written by Kathie Portie of the Big Bear Grizzly.

The lake rose 12 feet during the last El Niño event in 2005. Ten years later, employees of the Big Bear Municipal Water District are still finding pieces of runaway docks.

Because of the drought prior to El Niño’s arrival, many of the docks were sitting on dry land before the winter. Winter storms caused several docks to float away, many of them crashing against the shoreline and breaking into pieces.

“We had 96 tons of unidentifiable dock chunks (picked up) after the winter,” MWD General Manager Mike Stephenson said. “People were saying ‘where are our docks.’ They were blowing to the east and breaking up. People lost their stuff.”

This time around, with predictions of a strong El Niño in the air, the MWD is being more proactive, Stephenson said. “You can definitely expect at least an average fill, which is about 2 feet,” he said.

The MWD encourages dock owners to take necessary steps to secure their docks prior to the upcoming winter season. The owners of licensed docks can store their docks in a variety of ways—move the dock out of the water and above the high water line on property owned by the licensee, or store the dock with any commercial marina authorized by the MWD to store docks.

Another option is to securely anchor the dock offshore in the vicinity of the licensed property no more than 100 feet from the water line or within the center line of a bay or cove. The dock cannot interfere with adjacent properties or navigation channels.

Stephenson said one of the simplest ways to protect the dock is to keep the dock poles from sliding out of the sleeve brackets. This way, he said, the poles stay with the dock if it drifts away. “The poles will hit the ground and keep the dock from hitting the shoreline and breaking up,” Stephenson said. “That’s where the value is. Last time, the docks slid off the poles and then broke up when they hit the shore. We’re still running around pulling up dock poles from the last time.”

Ways to secure the poles to the dock include using a straight bolt, a U clamp or a bolted collar.

During the TroutfesT weekend, Stephenson said a Lake Patrol boat found one such pole, which caused quite a bit of damage to the boat’s propeller.

MWD Image

MWD Approves Lake Release Agreement

Big Bear Lake photo

Big Bear Municipal Water District will likely begin releasing water from Big Bear Lake Dam (written by Jonathan Riley of the Big Bear Grizzly).

Big Bear Municipal Water District’s board of directors approved an amended agreement Oct. 1 that could lead to a lake release starting as early as Oct. 8.

The board approved an amendment to an agreement with San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, also known in local water agency lingo simply as Valley, a water wholesaler that provides water to Bear Valley Mutual Water Company, also known simply as Mutual, on behalf of Big Bear MWD.

As the company that originally built Big Bear Lake Dam, Mutual owns and has rights to water in Big Bear Lake. To prevent Mutual from taking too much water and drastically affecting the lake level, Big Bear MWD has an agreement with Valley to provide water to Mutual for a set price.

If the lake is high enough, Valley can take water straight out of the lake and keep the money. If it’s low, Valley usually has to find some other source to supply Mutual. But in 2012 the agreement was changed, allowing Valley to take water from the lake even when it’s low if the company previously didn’t take water it had rights to when the lake was higher.

Between the time it came up for discussion at the Sept. 3 MWD board meeting and the Oct. 1 meeting when it was approved, there was a sentence added to the agreement relating to the flow rate of the proposed lake release, which had originally been proposed at 5 cubic feet per second.

“Valley District and Big Bear will work together to increase this flow rate, if possible,” the amended agreement stated as proposed in the Oct. 1 meeting agenda. “Costs for any infrastructure upgrades needed to accurately meter flows greater than 5 cfs will be shared by Valley District and Big Bear.”

Despite this clause sounding like it puts a greater burden on Big Bear and the lake, MWD General Manager Mike Stephenson and MWD directors agreed that there’s little chance of the clause practically coming into effect. MWD does not currently have the infrastructure to safely and accurately release more than 5 cfs.

MWD board member Bob Ludecke questioned whether the use of the word “shared” in the clause implied that costs would be shared 50-50.

“That wording almost seems like a lawyer’s paradise,” Ludecke said.

After consultation with district legal counsel, the board members were told the wording was ambiguous, so they approved a slightly different tentative version with the phrase “shared equally” replacing “shared.”

In making a motion to approve the amended agreement, director Vince Smith said that despite the wording sounding like something that could be expensive for Big Bear, it’s unlikely to lead anywhere. The cost of making improvements to allow MWD to release water at a faster rate would be more than the value of the water Valley is entitled to, according to Smith. The idea doesn’t make financial sense.

Stephenson didn’t go as far as saying that the actual total value of the water is less than the cost of making the necessary infrastructure changes to release more quickly, but said it was indeed prohibitively expensive. The value of Valley’s water is about $300,000, Stephenson said, and the infrastructure improvements would cost about $200,000.

Because of the minor change to “shared equally,” the agreement now has to go back to Valley once again for final approval.

“Tentatively, they would approve on the 7th, and someone would designate a delivery point, and we could deliver 5 cfs starting on the 8th of October,” Stephenson said. But there’s one important condition: Mutual has to designate a location where it wants its water delivered for the lake release to start. As of Oct. 6, Mutual hadn’t done so, and until it does the lake release is on hold. For Big Bear, that’s good news.

In September, Stephenson calculated that between Oct. 8 and the end of the year, if water was consistently released at a rate of 5 cfs, about 2.75 inches of the lake would be released. But Stephenson says he was told since then by Mutual’s general manager that Mutual won’t be needing any Big Bear Lake water during December. Stephenson now estimates the release will be less than 2 inches, probably totalling 1.5 to 1.75 inches of the lake. If Mutual doesn’t quickly designate a location where it wants the water sent, it could hypothetically be even less.

Stephenson also said at the Oct. 1 meeting that MWD had spent the past couple of weeks checking the calibration of its release system.

“I feel very confident that we’ll be able to measure and deliver water as accurately as anybody can do,” Stephenson said.

Lower Lake Level Changes Launch Ramp Late Season Schedule


East Boat Launch Ramp

East Boat Launch Ramp

A quick but informative article from Kathy Portie of the Big Bear Grizzly.

There’s another casualty of the California drought, and it’s right here in Big Bear. The Carol Morrison Public Launch Ramp, locally known as the East Ramp, will close to trailered boat launching beginning Oct. 5.

The East Ramp usually stays open later in the season, but the low lake level on the east end of Big Bear Lake has made launching boats from trailers more difficult. The shoreline will still be accessible for hand-launch vessels such as kayaks from Oct. 5 to Nov. 2 from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily. The parking lot will remain open during the same time period for vehicle parking.

To make up for the loss of the East Ramp during the late season, the Big Bear Municipal Water District will keep the Duane Boyer Public Launch Ramp, or West Ramp, open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily from Oct. 5 to Nov. 30.

“We hoped to push it to the October TroutfesT and we’ve made it,” MWD General Manager Mike Stephenson said. “It’s not a big impact this time of the season. We had 15 boats on Sunday and today (Sept. 22) there wasn’t a single trailer in the parking lot when I went by. We can accommodate pretty much what we get in a weekend with the one ramp.”

The East Ramp is closed for the winter from Nov. 3 through March 31. The West Ramp closes for the winter on Dec. 1 and remains closed through March 31.

“We’ll keep the East Ramp staffed until it gets cold,” Stephenson said. “People can still use the rest room, and the fishing pier and the pedal path. And people can hand-carry launch.”

The East Ramp is located at 41911 North Shore Drive, a quarter-mile west of Stanfield Cutoff. The West Ramp is at 38925 North Shore Drive, 1.5 miles west of Fawnskin.

For more information on boating on Big Bear Lake, visit


Another Article on Big Bear in the LA Times

Photo taken by Rosemary McClure

Photo taken by Rosemary McClure

Saw this quick little write up in the “Weekend Escape” of the LA Times this past weekend.  Written by Rosemary McClure.

Chill Out at Big Bear Lake

When the air-conditioning unit in my home goes on vacation every summer — it breaks down annually during the hottest days of the year — I hit the road in search of a place where I can chill with my two sweltering pups. This year’s respite was less than 100 miles from Los Angeles: Big Bear Lake. This (usually) snow-fed reservoir, surrounded by the San Bernardino National Forest, offered trails to hike, a dog-friendly boat tour and, best of all, temperatures so cool I was forced to wear a jacket at night. The tab: This year’s forced three-day home retreat took place at the end of July and cost less than $350, including $141 per night at Big Bear Chateau.

The bed

Big Bear has plenty of dog-friendly cabins and other accommodations. (For a list, call [800] 424-4232 or go to Also ask about the $25 free gas deal.) I wanted to stay near the Big Bear Alpine Zoo in Moonridge, so I tried a nicely landscaped lodge in the area, the Best Western Big Bear Chateau, where beds of flowers brightened the grounds and the words “free breakfast” beckoned (42200 Moonridge Road, Big Bear Lake; [909] 866-6666, The hotel is more faux Versailles than faux Alps, but I appreciated the pool and my dogs, Darby and Piper, liked the grassy grounds.

The meal

It’s not hard to find dog-friendly patios in this pup-loving town. One, in fact, is about a block from the hotel. Grizzly’s Bear Belly Deli & Cafe [42530 Moonridge Road, Big Bear Lake; (909) 585-4266] seems to be everyone’s favorite lunch stop, with sandwiches piled high with pastrami and other meats. My favorite meal, though, was at Evergreen Restaurant, overlooking the lake (40771 Big Bear Blvd., Big Bear Lake; [909] 878-5588, The menu features an interesting mix of entrees, such as beef Wellington and black tiger shrimp. One of my faves was the artistically presented roasted tomato bisque.

The find

Big Bear Lake is still blue and beautiful, more than two miles wide at one point, even though the drought has reduced its size. What better way to explore it than aboard Miss Liberty, a 64-foot-long paddle-wheel boat that allows well-mannered dogs (439 Pine Knot Ave.; [909] 866-8129, We cruised the lake for 90 minutes while the captain recounted the lake’s history and clued us in on the celebrities who have homes along the shoreline. No damage was evident from the Lake fire, which earlier this summer burned more than 30,000 acres in the wilderness 22 miles southeast of Big Bear.

The lesson learned

At the Big Bear Alpine Zoo, I found that the community’s effort to expand the 21/2-acre facility may pay off soon. Curator Bob Cisneros said the animal rehab center is about to go to bid for the construction of a 7-acre zoo nearby. I visited some of my favorite pals: three grizzlies; Hucklebeary, the three-legged black bear (the center thinks it was hit by a car); a pack of white wolves and the newest addition, two snow leopards. The zoo, a rescue and rehabilitation center, returns 80% of the animals rescued to the wild annually. “Those that can’t be returned end up here as our ambassadors,” Cisneros said (43285 Goldmine Drive, Big Bear Lake; [909] 584-1299,

How Close is the Lake Fire to Big Bear Lake?

Below is a map from ESRI showing how far away the “Lake Fire” is from Big Bear.  As you can see, it is on the south side of Highway 38 and is currently not a threat to Big Bear.  Yesterday, firefighters made excellent progress in creating a fire break adjacent to Highway 38 in Barton Flats.  As of this morning, the fire has burned 15,000 acres and is 10% contained.  There are over 1300 firefighters working the fire.  Highway 38 is closed for an unknown duration, but Highways 18/330 and 18 are open.

For ongoing information on the fire, visit the link below.  The information is updated morning and evening.

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If You Have Colorado Spruce Trees on Your Property in Big Bear…You Should Read This!

Blue Spruce

Blue Spruce

I received a note this past week from Marty Murie, owner of Nativescapes and certified arborist that I wanted to share….

Alert:  Insect Damaging Spruce Trees on the Rise in Big Bear

I have been seeing a lot of Colorado Spruce trees infected with Green Spruce Aphids (Elatobium abietnum) this Spring.  The population explosion can be attributed to the mild winters we’ve had the last few years.  Spruce trees are one of the most prized ornamental trees planted in Big Bear appreciated for their shape, density, color and ability to adapt to our climate.

Symptoms:  The aphid typically attacks interior needles which turn yellow.  You may notice a shiny wet look on the needles referred to as “honeydew”.  Most damage occurs on the lower portion of the tree but severe infestations can work their way to the top of the tree.  The affected needles detach and drop early so you may notice an unusual amount of dead needles under your tree.

Life Cycle:  The aphids actively feed in the Spring and Fall.  Quite often the damage is done by early Summer and the adult population declines before a homeowner notices there is a problem.  Trees that have been infected in the past will likely get infected again during the next cycle unless treated.  Severe infestations can defoliate the tree leaving only the new years growth on the tips of the branches.  It can take up to 5 years of growth for a tree to recover to its full density and appearance.

Control:  Spraying the tree with an appropriate insecticide will get rid of the current population.  Trees should be checked during the next cycle to insure they are free of aphids.  Remember your plant biology; photosynthesis takes place in the needles which provides energy to support all functions of your tree.  Less needles means less energy available.  To off set the reduction of functioning needles we are recommending soil injections with a mixture of a mild fertilizer, micronutrients and microbial cultures to provide all elements necessary to promote a healthy recovery.

If you notice any of these symptoms on your Spruce trees I would recommend contacting Marty’s office immediately to discuss treatment options at 909-878-0050.

Big Bear Paddlefest 2015 at New Venue

Photo courtesy of Scott Hoffman

Photo courtesy of Scott Hoffman

Big Bear Paddlefest is July 18, 2015

As the lake level changes, so too, does the Big Bear PaddleFest.  For the third time in its eight years of existence, the Big Bear PaddleFest has a new place to call home. Because of the lower lake level, the most recent venue, Swim Beach, is unavailable for 2015. But that didn’t worry event organizers Jim and Janet Dooley. They found a new place for this year’s fest, at The Pines Lakefront just east of Pine Knot Marina.

The Big Bear PaddleFest features a vendor expo, clinics and racing in all paddle sports categories. Whether you are a beginner or an expert, there is a race for you in kayak, canoe and standup paddleboard.

Registration begins at 6 a.m. with a mandatory quagga mussel inspection. Races are scheduled to start at 7 a.m. for 20K, around-the-lake racing. A SUP yoga class is at 7:30 a.m. followed by 5K races at 8:30 a.m. SUP yoga is also available at 9 a.m. before the 10K races, which start at 9:30 a.m.

There is a kids Bear Challenge at 11 a.m. followed by a Kids fun race for ages 5 to 12. Standup paddleboard clinics are at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

SUP sprints are at 11:30 a.m. and the popular SUP relay races are at noon.

Vendors at the expo include New Belgium Brewing Company, Hobie SUP, Yolo Boards, King’s Paddle Sports, Keen Footwear, the US Adaptive Recreation Center, US Coast Guard Auxiliary Paddlecraft, Smith Optics, Clif Bar, Nuun, Elev8 Pictures, Big Bear Vacations, Big Bear Fishing Adventures, The North Face, Gray Whale Paddle, California division of Boating and Waterways, Infinity Surfboard Company, Infinity Boards, Necky Kayaks and Cobian.

The day culminates with the awards ceremony and beach party from 1 to 3 p.m. with food, music and games. Stick around and watch the sun set on Big Bear Lake. Admission is free. There are entry fees for races.

For more information or to register, visit

The Big Bear PaddleFest is sponsored by North Shore Trading Company and New Belgium Brewing Company. North Shore Trading Company is at 39130 North Shore Drive, Fawnskin. The Pines Lakefront is at 350 Alden Road, Big Bear Lake.

MWD Receives $200,000 from State


Article written by Katherine Davis-Young of the Big Bear Grizzly.

State Funding Helps MWD in Quagga Fight

Quagga mussels and their relatives, zebra mussels, have made their way into 29 US states since the 1980s. That includes dozens of waterways in Southern California. But the invasive mollusks have not found their way into Big Bear Lake. The Big Bear Municipal Water District wants to keep it that way.

In April, the district was awarded a $200,000 grant from the State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways to go toward quagga control programs.

“When this program first came out everyone said, ‘you’ll never keep (quagga mussels) out,’” said MWD General Manager Mike Stephenson. “I said, ‘we’ll do 100 percent or we’ll do nothing.’ The board voted to do 100 percent.”

The grant will come as a big help, Stephenson said. The district plans to use the money on some new equipment like a mechanical arm to keep vehicles out of the East Boat Launch during unmanned hours. That addition will be added in 2016. Stephenson said the district also plans to put in some improvements like a better decontamination station at the West Boat Launch.

“It’s in order to be efficient with boaters so they get in and out as quickly as possible,” Stephenson said, adding the MWD still wants boaters to have an enjoyable time but needs to be extra cautious to prevent infestation.

The biggest change, Stephenson said, is that the grant has allowed MWD to hire some extra seasonal employees this year. The district used to employ three people to help with inspections, decontamination and permits. This year there are 10 people doing that work.

“(Quagga mussels) have really made it difficult,” Stephenson said. “(Ramp attendants) used to leave for the day at 3 p.m., now you have to have someone standing there at all times.”

Those additional employee hours add up quickly for the district. The work is important though, Stephenson said. Looking for quaggas requires a thorough inspection.

“There are a lot of places you wouldn’t think to look,” Stephenson said. “Boats go to Lake Mead and the whole bottom of that lake is covered in quaggas. They put the anchor down, pull it up, put it in a warm locker and viable quaggas will last in there for weeks.”

It only takes two of the mussels to create a huge infestation, Stephenson said. The small, striped mussels, native to Eastern Europe, are extremely hardy and can reproduce rapidly in a variety of habitats.

In lakes and waterways where the mussels have appeared, they have been known to disturb the balance of native ecosystems. They compete with small fish for food and resources, alter the chemical balance of the water and have even been known to contribute to botulism poisoning among aquatic birds, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The ecological impact is only one of the concerns raised by the mussels, Stephenson said. The mussels, which settle in large groups and cling to a variety of surfaces, can clog pipes. In Big Bear Lake that could mean damaging the dam or destroying the piping system that allows the ski resorts to make snow from lake water.

Recreation could also be affected, Stephenson said. “People don’t want to leave boats in the lake if they know there are mussels in there.”

Stephenson said the threat is very real since many boaters take their vessels from one lake to the next.

“Every year we catch half a dozen vessels with viable mussels on them,” Stephenson said. That estimate is only a portion of the issue. The MWD boat launches represent only a fraction of boats going into the lake, and Stephenson said Big Bear Lake’s marinas have been great partners to the district in helping fight off infestation. Many marina employees even come to the MWD for special quagga inspection training, he said.

The public is largely cooperative with the effort, too, Stephenson said. “I think most people already know this is important,” Stephenson said. “The hard part is to convince the last 5 percent to care.”

Stephenson said the new grant will help in those efforts. He said he also plans to apply for more funding next year.

“We’ll continue to fight as hard as we can. We’re not giving up,” Stephenson said.

For more information on the MWD’s quagga efforts, visit

MWD Prepares to Chemically Treat Big Bear Lake

Written by Katherine Davis-Young of the Big Bear Grizzly.

The Big Bear Lake Municipal Water District board of directors approved a $772,800 project May 7 to begin treating Big Bear Lake with alum.

The project is intended to improve the health of the lake and to meet total maximum daily load standards for pollutants in a body of water as defined by the US Environmental Protection Agency. The ongoing drought has caused lake levels to drop, and as a result, the chemical balance of the water has changed. The alum will counteract rising levels of phosphorus in the lake water.

Some of the phosphorus is naturally occurring and some comes from runoff from the surrounding community. High levels of phosphorus can contribute to increased chlorophyll or algae. Alum has been used in lakes since the 1970s as a phosphorus treatment.

“(Alum) is used in every drinking water plant,” MWD General Manager Mike Stephenson said. “It’s basically Maalox.”

MWD will spend $400,000 on the project and San Bernardino County and the city of Big Bear Lake will contribute $350,000. Washington-based lake treatment company Aquatechnex will treat the deepest portion of Big Bear Lake, a 420-acre area at the lake’s west end, with about 600,000 gallons of alum.

This is not the first time Big Bear Lake has been treated with alum. In 2004, during another serious drought, the lake dipped as low as 17 feet down from full. MWD treated the lake with 700,000 gallons of alum. The alum did its job, but 2005 brought heavy rain. Stephenson said that caused pollution and runoff to make its way back into the lake. That experience made this proposal a complicated decision for the board. They want to see the lake fill up but they also want to spend their money wisely.

Board member Bob Ludecke said in an April workshop discussing the project, “We’re basically going to spend three quarters of a million dollars then pray that it’s a bust.”

Board president Maryann Lewis said the project would likely be a success. “Unless we have a monster weather event, we’re going to see years of benefit,” she said.

When the board approved the project, Stephenson also reassured the board that the treatment is necessary. “We need to get alum in the water before we start seeing elevated chlorophyll numbers. We need to act quickly,” he said.

Aquatechnex will begin treating the lake in mid May. Stephenson said onlookers can expect to see cloudy water when the treatment is taking place, but when it’s done the lake should look a little clearer.

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