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.

Back Flow Testing your Big Bear Lake Fire Sprinkler System

I’ve had some clients recently ask about “back flow testing” for their newer constructions in Big Bear Lake.  Below is some information from the Big Bear Lake Department of Water and Power which I hope will be useful.   This test needs to be done annually.  I would recommend contacting either Bob with A Plumbing at 909-585-5203, or Rick Williamson from Running Springs at 909-867-3684.  Both are on the approved contractor’s list at the DWP and can test your system.

Backflow (Cross-Connection) Prevention

In water supply systems, water is normally maintained at a pressure to enable water to flow from the tap, shower etc. When water system pressure drops or declines, contamination may be drawn into the system.

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Where Can Cross-Connections Occur?

Cross-connections can occur at many points throughout a distribution system and a community’s plumbing infrastructure. Cross-connections can be identified by looking for physical interconnections between a customer’s plumbing and the water system. Some specific examples are:

  • Lawn chemicals backflowing (backsiphoning) through a garden hose into the distribution system.
  • Backsiphonage of “blue water” from a toilet into a building’s water supply.
  • Carbonated water from a restaurant’s soda dispenser entering a water system due to backpressure.
  • Backsiphonage of chemicals from industrial buildings into distribution system mains. Backflow of boiler corrosion control chemicals into an office building’s water supply.


What Technologies are Available to Control Cross-Connections and Prevent Backflow?
The type of backflow that is most likely to occur in your system (either from backpressure or backsiphonage) and the related health effects will determine which backflow prevention technology is best for your water system. The available technologies are described briefly below. Backflow prevention devices can protect your health and are mandatory to safeguard public health.

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Good News for Trout Anglers in Big Bear

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Good News for Trout Anglers

The summer of 2015 went down in Big Bear Lake history as one that was lacking if you enjoyed competively fishing for trout. Two tournaments—the Jim Hall Memorial May Trout Classic and the Fishin’ for $50K Trout Derby—went on hiatus for a variety of reasons.

Here’s a little advance notice to all you anglers out there. Check out your fishing gear and get ready. Two trout tournaments are on the schedule for May and June in the summer of 2016.

The Big Bear Visitors Bureau recently applied for and received a permit to bring back the Fishin’ for $50K Trout Derby in June. Dates for the two-day fishing tournament are set for June 11 and 12. More information will soon be available online at www.bigbear.com.

The other tournament is considered a new derby hosted by the Big Bear Municipal Water District, but there will be a familiar face at the helm. The MWD presents the Hall Family May Trout Classic tournament with Jason Hall as the volunteer executive director. Hall told The Grizzly that registration forms will soon be available at the MWD office. The event is scheduled for May 14-15 with the weigh-in station at the MWD parking lot.

The event is also co-sponsored by the Big Bear Visitors Bureau. There will be an awards ceremony at The Convention Center at Big Bear Lake.

More details will soon be available, according to Hall. Meetings are being held to finalize all the details.

This is great news, not only for anglers, but for the spring economy of Big Bear Lake. Fishing tournaments attract large numbers of eager anglers, providing local lodges, marinas and restaurants with a much-appreciated boost during what is usually considered the shoulder season.

If El Niño comes through with a stellar rain and snow season in February, March and April, the lake level will rise. And with Fishin’ for $50K and the Hall Family May Trout Classic, along with Aaron’s Bass Tournament series, the Carp Round-Up and the World Outdoor News October TroutfesT, Big Bear Lake’s sport fishing season is shaping up to make 2016 a very good year.

Kathy Portie writes about sports and recreation for The Grizzly. Follow her on Twitter @BBGrizzlyKathy.


Big Bear is Getting Snow!


Big Bear is getting snow this week.  How much snow depends on who you ask.

Ben Brissey, our local meteorologist at www.bensweather.com is calling for at least 1-2′ of snow.


Snow Summit has several graphs on their website (www.snowsummit.com) indicating as much as 4-5′ of snow by the end of the week.

Pacific Southwest Radar provided by Snow Summit
Pacific Southwest Radar provided by Snow Summit
5 Day Precipitation Forecast provided by Snow Summit
5 Day Precipitation Forecast provided by Snow Summit
Jetstream Forecast provided by Snow Summit
Jetstream Forecast provided by Snow Summit

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Many have said that January and February is when El Nino kicks in…regardless, it’s vital for our small community and economy here in Big Bear and everyone is embracing it with open arms.  Good for the ski resorts and hopefully it’ll fill up the lake (which is currently 14.5′ down).

Drive safe this week!   Here’s a link to road conditions.

Lakefront Home Featured in Orange County Register

One of several guest rooms at Dr. Wickwire's Big Bear house he calls the Wigwam at the Point. This room has a view of Big Bear Lake, a fireplace, sitting area and private bath. Additional Information: OCHOME.NOV.bigbear.1018.1/11/15 Photo by Nick Koon / Staff Photographer. Photos of Drick Wickwire's Wigwam at the Point in Big Bear.
One of several guest rooms at Dr. Wickwire’s Big Bear house he calls the Wigwam at the Point. This room has a view of Big Bear Lake, a fireplace, sitting area and private bath.
Additional Information: OCHOME.NOV.bigbear.1018.1/11/15 Photo by Nick Koon / Staff Photographer.

Nice article regarding Dr. William Wickwire’s residence, aka “The Wigwam”,  featured in the Orange County Register this week.  His home has been featured in Architectural Digest and I know he’s put his heart and soul into it.  Congrats!

Big Bear Home is a Winter Retreat


In William Wickwire’s residential existence, it’s all about the details. Every detail.

His near-obsession with design minutia extends well beyond nicely framed vistas and modern conveniences, though his Big Bear Lake home certainly has those.

The Wigwam at Eagle Point is a 5,000-square-foot shoreline retreat that is both homey and sophisticated, a perfect mix of Ralph Lauren Home and Tom Sawyer’s Island.

Wickwire’s touch is everywhere, from the home’s wooden doors and heavy latches he had handcrafted in Santa Fe, N.M., to guest bathrobes and light switches emblazoned with his custom Wigwam insignia.

There’re also the Ann Sacks and Batchelder tiles he hand-picked and arranged for some of the surrounds on the home’s eight fireplaces, and the red trim paint matched to the shade used on local Forest Service cabins in the 1920s.

“There’s not one thing, not a doorknob, not a latch, not anything in here, that I didn’t design,” he said.

Wickwire is a dermatologist with several offices across Southern California, including one in Big Bear Lake. He has no formal design training, but draws inspiration from his extensive travels.

Wickwire has other homes – in Palm Springs, Las Vegas and Hermosa Beach – in which to hone his natural talent.

It’s his attention to detail that quickly puts guests at ease.

A visitor on a cold, snowy day was greeted by a roaring blaze in the living room’s double-wide fireplace, covered floor to ceiling in smooth rocks gathered from the Santa Ana River.

The Wigwam “experience” starts at the circular front drive, where visitors pass a giant pot metal moose and a rustic gazebo with willow settees. They are treated to a view of the lake and soothed by the sounds of a recirculating rock stream and Big Band music wafting from the property-wide speaker system.

It took Wickwire years to find this site. In 1995, he bought his first Big Bear home on the opposite end of the street. He quickly realized he wanted a more desirable location, with sunrise and sunset views, isolation from the neighbors, and a parklike setting.

He found it on Eagle Point, on a half-acre lot with 60 trees.

Wickwire spent 18 months designing the home and almost three years overseeing its construction, completed in 2004.

Most of the original 1,200-square-foot house became the garage. That’s not that big considering it houses a couple of Segways, Vespas and a rare 1947 Alvis Woodie from England. The space doubles as Club Caribou for Wickwire’s annual Christmas party, complete with colored lights and a disco ball.

Wickwire took care to make the home blend into its surroundings by finishing the outside in cedar stockade siding milled in Idaho, which was inspired by a trip to Lake Placid Lodge in New York.

“I wanted the house to look like it had been here since the 1920s or ’30s,” he said.

He also staggered the two levels to keep the home from appearing too overwhelming.

The entry, a bedroom suite and game room-den are on the perimeter of the second story, overlooking the open-plan downstairs. In a clever repurposing, vintage skis stand on end, blocking the view of the upper level’s gym equipment.

In the spirit of the early days of Big Bear, Wickwire went for a lodge feel, with high ceilings and walls covered with distressed knotty pine and alder and a massive chandelier made of antlers. A handmade birchbark canoe hangs from a wall over the living room and the mantle over the fireplace sports carved trout that appear to jump from its surface.

Wickwire has always loved Big Bear, even as a boy, when his family stayed in a friend’s modest cabin for winter skiing.

The Wigwam rekindles his early days of Indian Guides, refrigerator box forts and exploring Tom Sawyer’s Island at Disneyland, he said.

That’s not to say there aren’t luxuries, and plenty of them. In the living room, a big-screen TV is hidden inside a custom cabinet camouflaged with accents of twigs and bark. And the best seat in the house is a Wickwire-designed red leather sectional sofa with white leather piping.

The living room opens onto one of the best rooms in the home, an all-season porch perfect for daydreaming or reading. Intimate and cozy, the room has a stone fireplace, sky lights and infrared heaters for winter. In summer, the windows can be replaced with screens to catch the breeze coming off the lake.

Beyond that is the deck and the authentic Adirondack lean-to – complete with a bed for afternoon naps lakeside. Just steps away are the fire pit and boat dock.

Back inside, the downstairs includes a well-stocked wine room. The onetime butler’s pantry has pine cabinets dressed up with twigs and birch bark, and unique stools made of water wheels from Thailand.

Each of the three downstairs bedrooms opens onto a courtyard with a cozy seating area.

The master suite is an octagonal room with a lodgepole pine bed and a view of the lake. The adjoining bath is chock-full of amenities, including a fireplace, steam shower, TV, refrigerator, towel-warming drawer and bidet.

But perhaps the best feature is the view from the Jacuzzi tub – of the lake and Juniper Point beyond.

“I’m big into views and pathways,” Wickwire said. “I spent a lot of time figuring out what you see when you come in a room.”

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