Low Caples hinders boat launching
Resort owner says too much water drawn from lake
By Gregory Crofton
Tribune staff writer
ALPINE COUNTY – If Caples Lake were full, John Voss would have been under water.
But the lake was 12 feet below its rim Wednesday and Voss was standing on a dock near the end of a boat ramp rendered useless because of the low lake level.
“All they have to do is use less water and keep it up for recreation,” said Voss, 65, a retired engineer and owner of Caples Lake Resort, located off Highway 88 near Kirkwood. “I don’t care about two or three thousand dollars of lost launching business. That’s not important. What’s important is access to the lake.”
Voss is headed into Labor Day weekend, his second busiest, with a boat ramp that doesn’t work. He blames El Dorado Irrigation District, which draws water from Caples Lake to create electricity and provide for drinking and farming on the county’s West Slope.
Yes, it is dry in the Sierra Nevada; the last four winters have brought average or below average snowfall. But Voss, who has owned the resort for 22 years, says he doesn’t remember ever having to close the boat ramp in August.
The district disputes Voss’ claim the lake has never been this low at the end of August. Data provided by the district indicates the lake was lower in 1986, 1987, 1988, 1990, 1991 and 1992.
“I can’t refute their historical data,” Voss said. “But they are still precluding recreation by drawing from the lake.”
“The answer to his problem is that it’s a dry year,” said Thomas Cumpston, general counsel for the irrigation district. “Boat ramps all through the state are going through the same problem.”
The district said it is allowed to drain as much water as it has from the lake, but acknowledged it is being forced to release more water than it wants from Caples Lake because it is still operating under an old license.
New license conditions agreed to a year ago in October allow the irrigation district to draw water from Caples Lake as well as Aloha, Sliver and Echo lakes, as the old license does.
But an agreement negotiated for the new license also contains dozens of conditions to protect recreation and the environment. One requires the district to have a new boat ramp built for Caples Lake within seven to 10 years of the license taking effect.
The problem is that state water quality officials are still working on environmental documents that, under state law, are required to be completed before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission can grant the license to the irrigation district.
The state’s environmental analysis must be completed by April, but then it has to be circulated to the public for comment, said Fred Zinchiak, of the State Water Resources Control Board. The work is taking longer than normal, Zinchiak said, because state budget cuts have reduced the number of people available to work on the project.
“There is an old license and a new license and we’re caught between both of them,” said Mark Korkowski, a manager for the irrigation district who oversees water operations at Caples Lake. “The issue is the new license has lesser (water) requirements, but we’re bound under the old license.”
Earlier this summer the irrigation district drew more water from Caples Lake in an effort to operate “in good faith” under the conditions of the license that is pending. The old license doesn’t restrict how much water can be drained from the lake, but it does require a minimum flow rate at a dam at Kyburz, which is why the level of Caples dropped about five inches on Wednesday.
“If we hadn’t been releasing earlier this summer then maybe the lake level would be higher,” Cumpston said. “But given the dry year we had, Caples Lake is still at high level. I know it is not high enough to satisfy Mr. Voss.”
In an effort to work with Voss, a few days ago the irrigation district dropped off a load of gravel at the Caples Lake so it could be used to create a soft ramp so small boats could launch from the beach. Voss already had bought his own gravel, but it didn’t help Bob Fisher, of Los Altos Hills, launch a small boat so he and his wife could fish for trout.
“What’s the hazard in launching, it’s just very shallow?” Fisher said. “I could launch if I take the motor off and carry the boat in and put the motor on somewhere else. We might take a look at Silver Lake.”
– Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or by e-mail at email@example.com
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