District to explore uses for Lake Ramona
By Karen Brainard
Nearly 24 years after the dedication of Lake Ramona, the Ramona Municipal Water District will explore possible uses for the body of water that Director Everett “Red” Hager called a “white elephant.”
Paul Owens, a Ramona pastor, asked the water board at its Dec. 27 meeting to consider allowing float tubes for fishing at Lake Ramona. Currently boating, rafting, swimming, wading and float tubes are not allowed at the lake.
Shoreline fishing is allowed in designated areas and a State of California fishing license is required.
Owens told the board he enjoys fishing at Lake Ramona, where he catches bass, his largest weighing 3 pounds.
However, he said, “The lake is difficult to fish from the shore.”
Owens said he has fallen in the lake three times because the shoreline drops off.
Liability for the water district is the main issue, according to district staff members who prepared the agenda memo recommending the board continue to not allow float tubes. A list of liability concerns and possible legal costs was included in the memo.
Referring to a liability concern of physical body contact on the lake without supervision, Owens said he has fished using a float tube at both Lake Cuyamaca and Barrett Reservoir and his body does not come in contact with the water.
RMWD legal counsel Sophie Akins of Best Best & Krieger noted that other area lakes are owned by different types of agencies or by municipalities.
“Every agency is governed by a different set of statutes,” she said.
Other district concerns listed were the possibility it could draw requests for other water sport activities, and emergency access for first responders would be difficult due to the hazzardous terrain around the lake.
Public access to the lake is restricted to non-motorized vehicles through the Blue Sky Preserve in Poway.
“The lake is so beautiful…It’s hardly accessible to Ramona unfortunately,” said Owens.
Annette Finley, RMWD manager of human resources and risk management, said the district would need approval from Joint Powers Insurance Authority (JPIA) before a program to allow float tubes is in place. JPIA is a pool of insurance carriers through which the district purchases insurance.
Board members and staff discussed how the allowance of float tubes would affect the insurance and what costs would factor in to prepare such a plan. Other staff time and possible costs listed included investigating requirements from the California Department of Public Health, the Bureau of Land Managment and the Department of Dams.
Akins noted that more government regulations have been created over the years that would affect use of the lake today. To deal with the legal and regulatory system can be a lengthy process, she said.
RMWD General Manager David Barnum echoed those comments.
“I do not anticipate regulatory agencies will be more generous than in the past,” he said.
Director Joe Zenovic noted that Santee Lakes is a hub of community activitiy.
“We have no specific use of that lake today other than storing water,” he said. “We have an asset that perhaps could generate some money for us. Right now it’s just a full but empty asset. Full of water but empty of use.”
“To me, Lake Ramona has been a white elephant,” said Hager, who then made a motion to accept staff’s recommendation of not allowing float tubes. That vote failed with Zenovic, Board President Bryan Wadlington and Director Kit Kesinger opposing.
Wadlington made a motion to explore uses of Lake Ramona. The motion passed 4-1 with Hager voting no.
Lake Ramona, in the Highland Valley area north of Mt. Woodson, was built by RMWD during the 1980s as a reservoir to provide a dependable and uninterruptible future source of water, according to the RMWD website. It can hold as much as 12,000 acre feet of water behind an earthen dam. The $32 million dam was approved by voters in 1981.
According to RMWD Director Darrell Beck, the lake provides untreated water primarily for commercial growers in Highland Valley area, and the number of those customers is decreasing.
The lake has not been used to its potential, Beck said, due to the high costs to treat the water. The district had to either build a water treatment plant in that part of town or run a cross-town pipeline to the Bargar water treatment plant, he said.
“Neither one of these ideas was done by the district,” Beck said, adding that both of those projects are no longer financially viable.
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