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.

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.

It’s a Dam Celebration

Big Bear Dam

Nice little article in the Big Bear Grizzly regarding the 100th birthday of the Bear Valley Dam.

It’s a Dam Celebration

By Kathie Portie

One hundred years ago Albert Berry made the first parachute jump from an airplane, the Titanic sank off the coast of Newfoundland, Edgar Rice Burroughs published “Tarzan of the Apes” and the Bear Valley Dam was completed.
On September 16, 80 guests of the Big Bear Municipal Water District took a cruise on the Miss Liberty to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Bear Valley Dam. The Big Bear Municipal Water District manages the lake and the safety of the dam.
“When you get real close to it you realize how imposing an engineering structure it really is,” MWD General Manager Scott Heule said about the dam. “You realize how imposing the physical feature it creates in the lake.”
The guests enjoyed light refreshments, read placards with information about the dam and the lake and watched a video on the way to the dam. As the Miss Liberty crossed the old granite rock dam, red, white and blue balloons rose out of an archway and dotted the sky. Banners lined the dam with a large “100” sign placed in the center of the structure.
MWD board president John Eminger told stories about growing up in Big Bear and how the lake played a prominent role. “We used to have duck hunting on the lake,” Eminger said. “There would be hunters in boats shooting toward the shore and hunters on the shore shooting toward the lake. We’re lucky nobody ever got killed.”
Ice skating was once allowed on the lake, when it wasn’t as deep as it is now and the lake froze at a safe depth. “I once made a sail and would sail around the shore,” Eminger said.
Eminger remembers a time when the lake was nearly empty in the 1960’s. People could walk across the lake from Fawnskin to Big Bear Lake without getting wet.
The Bear Valley Dam of the present was not the first dam. The first one was built in 1884 and cost $75,000. The original dam was constructed to create a reservoir for downstream irrigation of orange groves in Redlands. It was the largest manmade body of water in the world at the time.
In 1910, Bear Vally Mutual Water Company hired an engineer to design a new concrete dam. The new dam, which was finished in 1912, cost $138,000 and is located about 100 yards downstream from the old Bear Valley Dam. The storage capacity of the lake was increased from 25,000 acre feet to 73,000 acre feet. The top of the arches is 72 feet, 4 inches from the lake bottom. A state highway, Highway 18, was added to the top of the dam in 1924. The road was removed in 2011 when Caltrans built a bridge south of the Bear Valley Dam.
In 1977, the MWD purchased title to the dam, the lake bottom and the surface recreation rights to Big Bear Lake at a cost of $4.7 million.
“The economy of the Valley would be totally different today if the people back in 1909 didn’t decide to build the dam,” Heule said. “It certainly wouldn’t be the Big Bear everybody knows and enjoys today.”
Before Miss Liberty returned back to Pine Knot Landing, the aerator was turned on, creating a fountain of water sparkling in the sunset.
The Bear Valley Dam is 100 years old. According to the MWD, refurbishment in the 1980’s added another 100 years to its lifespan. The Bear Valley Dam is looking pretty good in her middle age.

1st Water Released from Big Bear Lake since 1996

Stranded Dock off of Gibralter Road

Saw this in the LA Times this morning.  Mike Stephenson, Lake Manager of the Big Bear Municipal Water District said in the Big Bear Grizzly that a full lake usually translates to a busy Summer recreation season.  “If the lake is down, (lake) usage is down, if the lake level is up, the usage is up”. “It’s the only consistent thing in 28 years of tracking the numbers.” According to the MWD, the lake was three-hundreths of a foot over full on April 8, which triggered 600 acre feet of water to be released at the dam last weekend.

By Phil Willon, Los Angeles Times
Reporting from Big Bear Lake—

Icy lake water has swamped the kayak hut and gangplanks at Pleasure Point Marina, and owner Roy Brownie couldn’t be happier.
After near-record amounts of snow and rain in the San Bernardino Mountains over the last year, wind-blown waves are cresting over Big Bear Lake’s 74-foot dam and have forced the agency managing the lake to release water downstream for the first time in 15 years.
For Brownie, the bountiful snowmelt has scrubbed away the residue of the most recent dry spell, which brought a 17-foot drop in lake levels, years of cracked-earth shorelines and, at the lowest point, a gratis rain dance by a sympathetic Shoshone shaman.
“A few more inches and the water would be in all the buildings but, you know what, a high lake is a good lake,” said Brownie, 77, a retired computer engineer whose marina was once owned by singing cowboy Roy Rogers and wife Dale Evans.
The battery of storms that swept through California this winter filled lakes and reservoirs throughout the state to near capacity, as well as recharging groundwater caches, bringing an official end to the latest of California’s cyclical droughts.
The Sierra snowpack, the all-important water source for nearly a third of Californians, remains 165% above normal, and some of the state’s largest reservoirs already are releasing excess water that is flowing into the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and, ultimately, San Francisco Bay. The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which supplies drinking water to 19 million people from Ventura County to the Mexican border, has a year’s supply in reserve.
“It’s been really pretty phenomenal, especially considering that back in the fall we were looking at La Niña conditions that tend to indicate a relatively dry winter,” said Frank Gehrke of the state Department of Water Resources and chief of the California Cooperative Snow Surveys program. “During California winters, you can go from feast to famine.”
In 2010 alone, Big Bear was inundated with 64 inches of snow and rain — the fifth highest level in the last century and twice as much as it received the year before — topped by 6 more inches of fresh powder in early April.

The late storm will allow the Snow Summit Ski Resort to stay open until Easter, but even that gift to skiers and snowboarders hasn’t been enough to rescue the resort, and the mountain communities around it, from a subpar winter tourist season.
“At lot of people are surprised to hear that,” said Chris Riddle, spokesman for Big Bear Mountain Resorts, which owns the Snow Summit and Bear Mountain ski areas. “It’s been a great season for skiers and snowboarders. Businesswise, it was an average to slightly below average year, even with all the snow.”
Riddle blamed the lingering effects of the recession, as well as damage from the very storms that delivered the abundance of snow and rain. A series of fierce rainstorms in December washed out Highway 330 to Running Springs, which is the quickest route up the mountain to Big Bear for most Southern Californians and remains closed to all but local residents.
“It’s just a combination of those bad things. I’ve seen a 20% drop in business since last year,” said Jaymes Nordine, owner of the Grizzly Manor Cafe, a popular breakfast spot known for its heart-stopping “Blob” — biscuits and gravy, bacon and cheese, all topped by eggs. “Right now, everyone is just trying to make it until summer. Because we know it’s going to be a great summer.”

With all the fresh snowmelt streaming into the lake, and stagnant, oxygen-depleted water being released from the bottom of the Bear Valley Dam, the water quality in Big Bear has risen and the rainbow trout are flourishing. Spawning season has been robust in the streams that course into the lake, enlivened by the pools of ample snowmelt trickling down from the still-snow-covered mountain to the west.
“We’re going to have an amazing spring and fall on the lake,” said fishing guide Cliff Fowler, who works out of Pine Knot Landing on the southern shore.
Braving a recent 45-degree morning, with a biting wind from the west, Fowler led a young family onto the lake and hooked 17 trout in just two hours. Fowler, who moved up the mountain from Glendale in 1972 and ran a local sporting goods store for decades, said he’s never seen the lake in such prime condition.

“Even after the ‘Miracle of ’93,’ the lake didn’t get quite this full,” said Fowler, referring to the year when Big Bear was pummeled by storms that dropped 61 inches of snow and rain in January and February.
The Big Bear Municipal Water District, which manages the lake, plans to keep it as full as possible for as long as possible — even though lakeside beaches are underwater, and erosion on the north shore has some juniper trees on the brink of toppling over.
“There’s no way to tell if next year will be dry or like this year,” said General Manager Scott Heule. “There’s no average year in California.”
There is minimal risk of flood or lakeside homes being damaged, Heule said, because a rise in the lake would send water spilling over the dam — and eventually into the Santa Ana River. The agency began releasing water from the bottom of the dam, built in 1911, to keep it from spilling over the top.

Federal forestry officials said the wet winter should keep the wildfire danger at normal levels in the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountains until July. The snow and rain also provided relief to forests ravaged by bark beetles, which are most destructive during dry spells when the trees are stressed. More than 1.5 million dead and diseased trees, mostly Jeffrey and Ponderosa pines, have been removed from the San Bernardino Mountains since 2002 — and millions more remain.
From Crestline to Big Bear, wildfires have stripped entire mountainsides of their forests, leaving behind skeletal remains of the once-towering conifers. The rain and snow have allowed chaparral, sages and grasses to flourish in the burn areas, which may create an increased fire risk when they dry out in the summer and fall.
“Overall, it doesn’t lend itself to an early fire season, that’s for sure,” said Robert Krohn, a meteorologist with the U.S. Forest Service in Riverside. “Over the years, we were off to the races in the spring.”

At nearby Lake Arrowhead, which unlike Big Bear is a private, closed lake, the storms have allowed officials to release water into the Mojave River for two years running.
The abundance of water has also quieted the feud between the local utility that taps the lake for the local drinking water supply and the homeowners association, which has fought to end any major withdrawals that might drop the lake level.

It was pretty emotional a few years ago when the lake was down 25 feet and people couldn’t get to their docks,” said John Hoagland, general manager of the Lake Arrowhead Community Services District. “It’s a far different story now. When the lake’s full, everybody’s happy.”


Big Bear Grizzly- Lake Overflows with Optimism

KLTA– Too Much Water, Officials Say Big Bear Lake is Full, Releasing Water for First Time in 15 years

Below is a graph I put together showing the annual precipitation at Bear Valley Dam tracked since 1884…interesting stuff.

Annual Precipitation Measured in Inches

Improving the Ecosystem around Big Bear Lake

The article below, written by Kathy Portie of the Big Bear Grizzly,  is a good example of what our local MWD does to help keep Big Bear Lake safe.  Yes they oversee the dock situation and make sure everyone is in compliance with the rules and regulations…..but they also ensure that the quality of our lake is safe for everyone to enjoy.

Published: Wednesday, November 18, 2009


An Army Corps of Engineers study on Big Bear Lake is back on track following the passage of the latest appropriations bill by Congress.

The agency will receive $577,000 to complete a feasibility study that has been in progress for eight years, according to Scott Heule, Big Bear Municipal Water District general manager. MWD representatives went to Washington, D.C., in March to ask for funds to complete the project.

“The Army Corps of Engineers cannot ask for appropriations for studies,” Heule said. “So when we went to D.C., we lobbied on behalf of the project.”

Heule asked for $800,000 to complete the study, which will be used to develop a number of smaller projects to improve the ecosystem around the lake. Such projects could include eradication of invasive shoreline plants to improve the water habitat, Heule said. “It also targets dredging projects and maybe things like creating lake islands for water fowl habitat,” Heule said. “There is a whole range of potentially beneficial projects that can come out of the study.”

The study was put on hold in 2008 when no funding was appropriated for the project. “The last thing we did on this was a baseline condition report,” said Eldon Kraft, Army Corps of Engineers project manager. “We documented current conditions and anticipated future conditions of the lake.”

Kraft said the new funding will help his agency develop alternatives to include in the study’s first draft. “We will be able to wrap up details of design and cost estimates related to habitat benefits,” Kraft said. “We think we will be able to get the first report done and hold the review process early in the summer.”

Heule said the study is necessary to seek federal funding for future lake habitat improvement projects. “It’s a pretty complicated process,” Heule said. “We learned that this funding will get us pretty close to where we need to be.”

Kraft said the funding is a good start, but more money will be needed to complete the study. An environmental impact study is required once the first draft is complete. “We’re probably at a point where next year we will be able to receive sufficient funding to complete the study,” Kraft said.

Heule said the lack of funding for the study in 2008 made it crucial for the MWD to go to Washington, D.C., earlier this year. “It’s another reason why you can’t lobby Washington from Big Bear,” Heule said. “If you don’t go back there, you may not get the money.”

Run the Bear: Big Bear Lake Marathon is September 12th

Map of he Big Bear Lake Marathon
Map of the Big Bear Lake Marathon

The Big Bear Lake Marathon is September 12th, 2009.  Which means if you’re planning on participating you need to start training NOW!  If you’re not interesting in running the full marathon, there will also be a 13 mile half marathon, a 5k run, a 1 mile kids run, and a 26 mile bike tour.  This is entirely different from last year’s event.  New course.  Managed by entirely different people (The Lighthouse Project)….which in my opinion is a good thing.  The course is much more scenic and the people involved with putting on the event are much more organized. 

The course loops around the lakeshore of Big Bear Lake starting at Pine Knot Avenue and going towards Big Bear Dam.  From there, you run through Fawnskin along North Shore Drive, across Stanfield Cutoff, through the gated community of Eagles Knoll and back across the North Shore through the Alpine Pedal Path, and back to Pine Knot Avenue. 

Looking at the elevation map below, it looks like the first and last 3-4 miles will be the hardest. 

Elevation Map for All Events
Elevation Map for All Events

If you haven’t signed up, here’s the registration site.  If you don’t plan on running make sure you make note of this date…the roads will be closed until about 4:30pm that day.  I won’t be the first person to cross the finish line,  but I do plan on participating.  Hope to see you out there!


Event Gets Second Life- Big Bear Grizzly (June 24, 2009)

Special Event Permit Granted to Run the Bear Marathon, Coming to Big Bear Lake September 12 – KBHR (June 19, 2009) – Big Bear Lake Marathon Information

Big Bear Lake Marathon Website

Big Bear Lake’s 6th Annual “Carp Round-up”

Photo courtesy of The Big Bear Municipal Water District
Photo courtesy of The Big Bear Municipal Water District

If you saw a bunch of people carrying bows around the Lake don’t be worried….you’re not losing it! The 2009 Big Bear Carp Round-Up is this weekend (June 6th and 7th). The two day event is a two person team event which costs $40 per person and is sponsored by The Big Bear Municipal Water District. I dropped the ball and should’ve written about this sooner. There’s two team categories…shore teams and boating teams. Each team gets a t-shirt, raffle ticket, a mesh fish bag, and a hot dog lunch at the awards ceremony. 1st Place wins $1,000, 2nd Place wins $500, and 3rd Place wins $300. Biggest fish (by weight) each day gets a $200 prize as well. Good luck to everyone who decided to participate…it’s cold out there (40’s)!