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Lake Nacimiento residents look to take fight to Monterey County over low water levels

Residents have started a campaign to "Save the Dragon".

A group claims Lake Nacimiento is in extreme danger. This decades long battle for the shared resources of the lake isn’t anything new, but the Nacimiento Regional Water Management Advisory Committee says Monterey County is mismanaging the reservoir and may even being doing so unlawfully.

Built in the 1950s, the Nacimiento Reservoir was designed for irrigation, flood control, groundwater recharge, and recreation.

Even though the lake is located in San Luis Obispo County, the dam was built and is maintained by Salinas Valley landowners.

That agreement was drafted in the 50s allocates 180,000 acre feet a year to Monterey County and the Salinas watershed — about half the lake’s total capacity. San Luis Obispo County is only guaranteed less than 20,000 acre feet per year.  

Salinas landowners have long said it’s important to remember that the primary purpose of the lake is to serve as an agricultural reservoir for the Salinas Valley.

But surrounding residents of the say the county is disregarding its recreational responsibility.

"Monterey County is ignoring that fact right now," said Bruce McFadden, NRWMAC Board of Director.

NRWMAC serves nine communities totaling thousands of people who live along the lake.

Due to water releases on low levels, nearly all docks in the communities are dried up and unusable — a situation that usually occurs after Labor Day.

NRWMAC says Monterey County won’t negotiate with them and the group now wants to take the fight of water releases to court. So its raised nearly $40,000 for legal fees.

"We want to be sure that we’re iron clad, that when we go for litigation, that we’re spot on and have a very good chance at winning," McFadden said.

This season at the lake began with low water levels, nearly half of its usual amount.

Nathan Merkle, Monterey Lake Recreation Company General Manager said "the level has been dramatically decreasing (this year) but its nothing new and has been happening for the last 50 to 60 years."

Lake Nacimiento Resort is still packed. According to Merkle, 50,000 people visited in June and this weekend is sold out.

The low water level, but high volume of visitors means less space on the lake.

"It’s hot and a lot of people are coming out," said one visitor. "I’d like to see the water level stay up throughout the summer and release it later through August."

NRWMAC says there is a solution.

"I feel like we can come to a compromise and they can do a better job of less water releases and allowing all the lake communities to have access to their launch ramps at least until through Labor Day weekend," said McFadden.

We have reached out to Monterey County water officials for comment multiple times but have yet to hear back.

You can read more on NRWMAC’s fundraiser here.

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