DEL DIOS – There is a myth about Lake Hodges.
No, not the myth about “Hodgee,” a creature that purportedly lurks in the water’s depths, like the Loch Ness monster of Scottish lore.
The myth is that trees that sprouted in the floor of the lake during a drought early this decade have so polluted the reservoir that it cannot recover.
Lake Hodges’ problems go way beyond a bunch of willow trees sticking their pathetic branches above the shimmering surface.
Lake Hodges’ problems stretch back 89 years, to when the dam that created the reservoir was built. The reservoir provides drinking water for Rancho Santa Fe and Encinitas.
As the watershed around the lake has urbanized, especially in Ramona and Escondido, chemicals and bacteria have poured into the lake.
Nitrogen and phosphorous from fertilizers, chemicals from herbicides and pesticides, and bacteria from farm animals, pets and humans all wash down lawns and driveways into creeks and storm drains, and then to the lake.
Lake Hodges is on overload.
“When you think about this 248-square-mile watershed, all of which has organics that go into the (lake), the trees are a pretty insignificant part of that,” said Jeff Pasek, who manages the watershed for the city of San Diego.
Cor Shaffer runs the R.E. Badger Filtration plant for the Santa Fe Irrigation District, which treats water from Hodges.
“If the issues were as simple as cut the trees, we’d be out here in a heartbeat,” Shaffer said. “It takes a more comprehensive approach.”
A group of local water experts is devising a plan to clean up Hodges water before the San Diego County Water Authority links the reservoir to the region’s emergency aqueduct system, perhaps next year.
The state, under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, lists Lake Hodges as an “impaired” water body because of pollutants and “turbidity,” or cloudiness.
Four creeks that flow into the lake – Cloverdale, Felicita, Green Valley and Kit Carson – also are listed as impaired, an indication that Hodges’ problems begin upstream.
Although the city of San Diego has owned Lake Hodges since 1925, the city gets no water from the lake.