Water Levels for Big Bear Lake

Mallard Bay January 2018

With the low lake level and the lack of precipitation, I thought it would be good to give you a quick update.  I’ve been hearing a lot of inaccurate comments about our lake.  Things like….”it hasn’t been this bad since the 1960’s!” (not true).  It doesn’t look good right now but we’ve been here before and the lake will come back.  It might take longer than we would like but it will fill up.

We’re currently 14′ 10″ from being full according to the the Big Bear Municipal Water District.    In 2004, we were 17′ from being full.  The following year the lake completely filled up.  In 1992, the lake was down 13′ and completely filled up in 1993.  So, while it is a little depressing to see we must realize that the lake level fluctuates from year to year based on the amount of precipitation we get and some years are going to be better than others.

You can go on the MWD’s website and view the lake level as well as the monthly precipitation measurements.  Below is an example of the chart they provide to the public.  Going all the way back to 1884, on average February is the wettest month of the year (7.40), followed by January (7.07) and March (6.20).  So let’s hope for a wet February!



Marinas and Public Launch Ramp Open for the Season in Big Bear

Big Bear Marina                                                                                                                             (500 Paine Court) 909-866-3218-

Captain John’s Marina                                                                                                          (39396 North Shore Drive) 909-866-6478

East & West Ramp Public Launch                                                                                   (41911 & 38925 North Shore Dr) 909-866-5200 & 909-866-2917

Holloway’s Marina & Pirate Ship                                                                                            (398 Edgemoor Rd) 909-866-5706

North Shore Landing                                                                                                             (38573 North Shore Dr) 909-878-4386

Pine Knot Marina                                                                                                                           (439 Pine Knot Ave) 909-866-7766

Pleasure Point Marina                                                                                                                (603 Landlock Landing Rd) 909-866-2455


Fishing Tournaments in Big Bear Lake for 2017

Fishing Tournaments in Big Bear Lake for 2017

April 1- Aaron’s Big Bear Lake Bass Tournament qualifier  800-475-3166 www.bigbearbassfishing.com

May 6- Aaron’s Big Bear Lake Bass Tournament qualifier 800-475-3166  www.bigbearbassfishing.com

May 20-21- Hall Family May Trout Classic 909-866-5796           www.bbmwd.org

June 3-4- Fishin’ for $50k Trout Derby, Big Bear Visitors Bureau 800-424-4232 www.bigbear.com

June 10- Aaron’s Big Bear Lake Bass Tournament qualifier 800-475-3166 www.bigbearbassfishing.com

June 17-18- 14th Annual Carp Round-Up, Big Bear Municipal Water District 909-866-5796 www.bbmwd.org

July 15- Aaron’s Big Bear Lake Bass Tournament qualifier 800-475-3166 www.bigbearbassfishing.com

Aug 12- Aaron’s Big Bear Lake Bass Tournament qualifier 800-475-3166 www.bigbearbassfishing.com

Sept 9-10- Aaron’s Big Bear Lake Bass Tournament of Champions 800-475-3166 www.bigbearbassfishing.com, Western Outdoor News Troutfest, 949-366-0248, www.wonews.com


Big Bear Dam not at risk

Big Bear Dam

Municipal Water District officials are not concerned about an event similar to Oroville happening in Big Bear.   Below is an article from Natalie Williams of the Big Bear Grizzly.

Big Bear Dam not at risk

Unlike the damage, flooding and evacuations at the Oroville Dam in Northern California, the dam on Big Bear Lake is in good shape.

“As far as dam safety and issues and concerns of flooding, we’re about half capacity right now, so we have a long ways to go, ” said Mike Stephenson, general manager of the Big Bear Municipal Water District.  As of February 1`, the dam was 13 feet, 4 inches from full.

Stephenson said the Big Bear Lake dam is not at risk of experiencing issues similar to the Oroville Dam in Northern California.  The problems with Oroville Dam began February 7 after a large hole emerged in a spillway after the region experienced heavy rains.  Evacuations for at least 188,000 followed February 12 after there were concerns of the spillway failing, according to The Mercury News.

The Big Bear dam can withstand an 8.3-plus earthquake and 3 feet of water over the top, Stephenson said.

When water is released from the Big Bear dam, it takes nine hours to travel from the Big Bear dam to the Seven Oaks dam.  “Seven Oaks is double the capacity of Big Bear and can never be more than half full, so it can take the entire Big Bear Lake and hold it behind it,” Stephenson said.  If there were a breach, Seven Oaks would be able to successfully capture the water.  There are a few campgrounds near the path of the water, which are unoccupied during the winter months, so Stephenson said there’s really no risk or danger.

“Our capabilities for release are incredible,” Stephenson said.  “And if we got into a situation where we saw an impending storm, and we’re a foot or two from full, we certainly would start a release, kind of like what Oroville is doing right now with what’s going on up there.”

To help with the safety, the MWD bolted some rocks to the side of cliffs near the dam and conducted a routing study a few years ago to see if there were erosion or overtopping concerns.

“The routing study, what it does is it kind of models the water going over the top of the dam and what potentially kind of erosion, like what happened in Oroville, could create,” Stephenson said.  “And there were no concerns.”

The east side of the dam has experienced some spalling, or erosion, of the concrete, but the MWD said it is damage caused to the original 1-foot archways.  In 2005-06 the MWD added a 2-foot thick dam behind that dam, so it is secure, Stephenson said.  “Our dam right now is a big blob of concrete, it’s 32 feet, it’s pretty damn strong, there’s no fear of it failing,” he said.

The MWD also has an operations plan from its engineer, Mike Rogers of Montgomery.  Watson and Harza, which instructs the district that if there is 12 inches of predicted precipitation and the dam is a foot from full, water needs to be released, Stephenson said.

“We have a pretty robust plan as far as any issue,” Stephenson said.  “It’s kind of funny the last conversation I had with reporters was drought, now we’re talking flood and the dam breaks.  And that’s how these things come.  Right now we’re actually hoping we get some of that rain up north.”

The MWD dam has approval from its engineer and experiences bi-annual inspections from the Division of Safety of Dams for the state of California, Stephenson said.  Right now, Stephenson still hopes to receive additional precipitation.

We’re certainly not out of the woods yet as far as drought and low lake level,” Stephenson said.

Big Bear Municipal Water District hatches plan for Fish

Big Bear Municipal Water District hatches plan for Fish

by Natalie Williams of Big Bear Grizzly

The Big Bear Municipal Water District is considering opening it’s own fish hatchery.

The MWD purchases it’s trout from hatcheries, many of which are in Northern California and have been affected by the drought.  This altered the availability and price of the trout, board president John Eminger said.

After visiting the William Jack Hernandez Fish Hatchery in Anchorage, Alaska, January 30 with four board members and two staff members, the Municipal Water District is considering moving forward with it’s own fish hatchery.

“We haven’t had a plan yet,” said Mike Stephenson, general manager of the MWD.  “We learned a lot.  We saw an identical facility to what we’re considering.  Again, it’s information only so we’re now trying to sit back down and hash out some ideas.”

The MWD developed an ad-hoc committee specific for the hatchery consisting of board members Bob Ludecke and Vince Smith.  The committee members will soon discuss their thoughts on the hatchery and then recommend how the district should proceed.  A date for that committee meeting has yet to be determined, though Stephenson expects it to be within the next month.

One potential location for the hatchery could be the former mobile home park next to the MWD office, Eminger said.

A timeline for completion is uncertain at this time, Stephenson said.  The MWD could receive the parts in-house within six months.  “It’s pretty preliminary to even get there yet,” he said.

Planning and environment work would need to be completed as well.  Stephenson said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not require them to complete California Environmental Quality Act paperwork, but the MWD will go through with the process anyway.

Temporary Relief – Recent Storms Aren’t Panacea for Drought

The quality of the video above isn’t very good…but I was out for a jog and was pleasantly surprised at how well the water was flowing out of Grout Creek (over in Fawnskin) back into Big Bear Lake.  I know some of us are a little jealous at how much snow Mammoth is getting (and Big Bear is not), but the rain is good for our lake and aquifers.  The article below was written by Kathy Portie and Natalie Williams of the Big Bear Grizzly last week.

Temporary Relief

Recent storms during Christmas and New Year’s holidays have added more than 7 inches to the level of Big Bear Lake.  But overall, the lake level remains low as Big Bear Valley enters its sixth year of drought.

Two snow storms at the end of December helped make the holiday successful from a business standpoint, but how did it impact the drought?

Not so much, according to officials from Big Bear Valley’s water districts.

“You could say it gives us a false sense of security,” said Jerry Griffiths, water superintendent for the Big Bear City Community Services District.  “We need a great January and February also, if we’re going to see any impacts at all.”

Big Bear, as with the state of California, has been in the midst of a drought for more than five years.  The last time Big Bear was faced with a drought of this magnitude was 2002-2005, Griffiths said.  He likes to use those numbers when calculating the impacts and needs involving the current drought.

“According to our office measurements, we had almost 4-and-a-half-inches of precipitation this last storm,” Griffiths said.  “That sounds like a lot.  But last year in January, we got 4-and-a-half, and it still didn’t (help). ”

Griffiths said his crew plans to measure well levels this week.  Based on November’s numbers, the CSD wells are 42 feet down. At the lowest point during the last major drought in 2004, that level was about 60 feet down, he said.  “That was pretty severe,” Griffiths.  “We go down about 5 feet a year.  If we don’t continue to get good precipitation, we could see it go down more.”

At the Big Bear Municipal Water District, which manages recreation and safety on Big Bear Lake, general manager Mike Stephenson said the two December storms did give a boost to the lake level.  “It’s come up 7-and-a-half inches this season since after Thanksgiving at the lowest point,” Stevenson said.  “That one rainstorm (before Christmas) brought it up the most.”

Stephenson said the last snow raised the lake about half an inch.  “And it’s going to go down in the ground, up in the air or into the lake,” he said.

The mountain resort sources it’s snowmaking water from the lake.  With the recent storms and overal warm weather, the mountain resorts haven’t pumped as much water from the lake as previous year, Stephenson said.

“In the last two weeks they only pumped like 40 acre feet or something.   It’s super minimal,” Stephenson said.  “Right now, the total is an inch of lake level, maybe.”

Sierra Orr, water conservation and public information specialist for the Big Bear Lake Department of Water, said the DWP has wells in multiple aquifers, so groundwater levels vary.

“While some well levels are in decline, recent calculations show that even with some wells offline and continued drought projections, the water supply is sufficient for more than three years,” Orr said.

It’s difficult to determine how much rain or snow Big Bear needs to offset the drought, Orr said.

“While every inch helps, it’s important for people to keep conserving, otherwise our aquifers won’t get a chance to recharge,” she said.  “Our most recent weather year precipitation total was still 5 inches below average, or 14 percent below average.”

Orr said it’s important that people continue to conserve as California enters into its sixth year of drought.  “Even if we are on the way out of the drought, California will have another one down the road,” Orr said.  “We as a state must adhere to the governor’s orders to make water conservation a California way of life.  We are happy to see the state has adopted many of the policies that Big Bear has had in place for over a decade, including the restrictions on runoff, washing off sidewalks or houses, and requiring property owners to fix leaks.”

In November, Governor Jerry Brown’s office released a public review draft report of an executive order to make conservation the California was of life.  The order contains four interrelated objectives including using water more wisely, eliminating water waste, strengthening local drought resilience, and improving agricultural water use efficiency and drought planning.

In the meantime, Big Bear water agencies keep their eyes to the sky. “We need lots more,” Stephenson said.  “This is just the beginning, this 7.5 inches.  We lost 3-and-a-half feet this summer, and we’re going on five years of that.”

Stephenson said the key to improving the lake level is to follow the snowfall with some rain.  The next few weather systems appear to be on the wetter side, Stephenson said.

“We’re certainly encouraged by the forecast,” Stephenson said.  “The one storm later in the week could be substantial with precipitation from the sky and that could be substantial.  We’re just wet, and we’re happy but there’s certainly a long ways to go.”

Meanwhile the state’s water agencies are anticipating new regulations, Orr said.  “We expect the California Water Commission will likely approve a new slate of policies  and regulations at their meeting Jan. 19,” Orr said.  “If that’s the case, we have a lot of work ahead of us.  The way we use and manage water is becoming top of mind, and we think that’s a good thing.”

Newsletter of the Big Bear Municipal Water District (Fall/Winter 2016)

Bathymetry Chart (Lake Levels)
Bathymetry Chart (Lake Levels)

Below is a quick article provided by the Big Bear Municipal Water District regarding the lake levels in Big Bear Lake through their most recent Newsletter called Lake Views.  With the obvious low lake level being on everyone’s mind I thought it was timely, informative, and worthy of sharing.


The history of fluctuating lake levels changes daily depending on who you ask and how many times the story has been told.  Currently there are few reliable sources of information but here are some facts to put it in perspective.

Over the last 114 years, the State of California Department of Water Resources has been collecting and storing historical data regarding rain and snow fall along with inflow to California lakes.  Rain and snowfall data has also been collected at the Bear Valley Dam, specifically since 1909.  What we do know is that Big Bear Lake is just over one hundred years old and has filled only eleven times.  In-between those full years we have had varying conditions, depending on precipitation.

In recent years (which is as far as most can remember) Big Bear Lake filled in 2011 and the District had to release what would have spilled over the top of the Dam.  Just shy of 10,000 acre feet of water, the equivalent of 1/7th of the total volume of the Lake, ran straight into the ocean.  That amount of water would fill approximately 5,000 Olympic sized swimming pools.

Since early Spring 2012 to date, the Lake has dropped due to evaporation to 16’3″ down from full.  This is the quickest mother nature has taken from the Lake with evaporation and not given back with valley precipitation in recorded history; an alarming number considering there is no end in sight.

The Lake was in a similar situation in 2004 and on October 17th it started to rain at 3:45 in the afternoon.  It continued to rain and snow until the following Spring.  The Lake was sitting at 4′ down from full in May of 2005 and then filled to capacity in 2006.  We have been here before, and we will be here again.

Unfortunately, weather predictions tend to feel like darts and don’t always hit the board and surely not the bullseye.  Farmer’s almanac says get out the snow shovels while the ocean is cooling more towards a La Nina pattern.  The winter of 2015-2016 was touted as a monster El Nino which had everyone tuning up the snow blower.  Northern California and the State Water Project benefited greatly while lakes in the south remained dry.  Interesting fact:  Big Bear Lake has never filled and spilled during an El Nino event but has twice filled during a La Nina year.

The next rumor to squash is that we have a secret pipe to fill the Lake  or we let all the water out for people to make Kool-Aid.  Precipitation that falls within our 72 square mile watershed is the only way water is added to the Lake or aquifer.  Only about 42 square miles of that watershed contributes to Big Bear Lake with the balance flowing towards Baldwin Lake.  The division in the watershed is right around well…Division Drive.  The east portion of the watershed has significantly less precipitation than the west end of the watershed.

What Mother Nature doesn’t deliver in any given year, the District has made an agreement to minimize the effect on our Lake with a negotiated water purchase from Valley Municipal Water District (a water wholesaler) who would purchase from the state water project and deliver straight to Big Bear Valley Mutual Water Company (the owner of the water in Big Bear Lake).  This agreement is what we now refer to as the In-Lieu Water Agreement.  This contract is very complicated; however, the short explanation is the District buys water (over a million dollars annually) in-lieu of releasing water from the Lake.

The idea was to protect the local economy from suffering from the drastic Lake level draw-downs experienced in the 1950’s and 60’s.  Today, as this is written, the Lake would be below 25′ down without this agreement.

Stand by because we have been here before and we will experience this again, maybe the next edition of the Lake Views newsletter will have us writing about flooding and what to do with all the water.  The Lake level cycle in the Big Bear Valley is to be continued…

Big Bear Lake City Council Approves Funds for Pedal Path

alpine pedal path

Written by John Emig of The Big Bear Grizzly

Using grant funds, and money from the U.S. Forest Service and the city of Big Bear Lake, the Alpine Pedal Path on the North Shore will get a much-needed makeover.

The Big Bear Lake City Council voted 4-1 to approve $70,000 in city funds for the $560,353 project. The Forest Service will contribute $240,353, with the rest of the money coming from a $250,000 California State Parks grant obtained by the city.

The Alpine Pedal Path Rehabilitation Project will include two replacement bridges.

Mayor David Caretto cast the lone vote against the project, citing his long-standing objections to spending city money on projects outside the city.

In their decision to approve the expenditure of city funds, the rest of the council agreed that, despite its location outside city limits, the Alpine Pedal Path is an asset to the city as a tourist destination.

Plans call for work to rehabilitate the pedal path during the summer with completion in the fall of this year.

The Alpine Pedal Path is located on Forest Service land on the North Shore. Easily accessible for hikers, cyclists, skaters, joggers, strollers and wheelchairs, the Alpine Pedal Path is a paved path that starts at Stanfield Cutoff and ends at the Big Bear Solar Observatory for a total of 2.5 miles. Along the North Shore there are main access points at Juniper Point, Stanfield Cutoff, the Big Bear Discovery Center and Serrano Campground.