Estimate for return of private boat launching remains at least decade out
BY MIKE STEVENS
ESCONDIDO— Lake Hodges will open on Wednesday, February 7 under the same conditions and regulations that were put in play in 2023.
“The water level is still low like it was when we closed, and the boat ramp is still going to be closed,” said lake staffer, Laina Ruiz. “Only kayaks, float tubes and whatever people can carry from the ramp to the water will be allowed, so pretty much everything in the same as last year.”
As a result of the new rules, all rental boats were spoken for first thing in the morning quite a bite in 2023. Ruiz told WON the plan was to beef up the fleet before the 2024 opener, and that mission was accomplished this offseason.
“We got all the boats from Lake Miramar, and they’re all really nice with new motors,” said Ruiz.
Lake Hodges closed for the season when the drawdown of the lake began at noon on Thursday, May 19, 2022 in order to facilitate the infrastructure enhancement program aimed at making what are being called critical and long-needed improvements to the popular San Diego City lake’s dam.
According to an official City of San Diego press release, “During an inspection, the city identified areas in the dam that require repair and need be sealed. To access these areas, the water level of the reservoir needs to be lowered by approximately 18 feet from its current level to an elevation of 275 feet. The reservoir may need to be lowered below 275 feet if additional areas needing repair are identified during the project. The repair project is expected to continue for an estimated five months.”
That unlikely timeline was extended in late September of 2022 which delayed the 2023 opener. That announcement came as no surprise to the Southern California recreational fishing community that is regularly at odds with the City of San Diego and its management of the San Diego City Lakes.
“Our top priority must be preserving the integrity and safety of the 104-year-old Hodges Dam and the surrounding communities,” said Council Member Marni von Wilpert. “While I understand that this news is frustrating, public safety and Dam integrity must not be compromised.”
When the project kicked off that May, Western Outdoor News was quick to suggest the shut down would likely extend well past the five-month estimate because there would be no reason to re-open the lake in late October when it closes for the season anyway.
In September of ’22, more damage was discovered in the dam and pushed the timeline out to spring of this 2023. On March 23, Lake Hodges Dam was further downgraded to “unsatisfactory” condition, the lowest rating possible, and it calls for immediate action. The Department of Safety of Dams (DSOD) called for water levels to stay put until major improvements are made, or the dam is completely replaced with a new one. That second option is starting to sound like the more significant one, and the city has been working with state agencies to establish a timeline for a new dam.
“Based on the size, significance and complexity of the structure that big and complicated, 2034 is our most reasonable estimate at this point,” said Juan Guerreiro, the City of San Diego’s Public Utilities Director.
Toward the end of November, 2022, the City of San Diego ordered the release of approximately 250 million gallons of water from Lake Hodges into the San Dieguito River for safety reasons following rain during ongoing dam repairs. The California Division of Safety of Dams requires the water level at Lake Hodges to remain below 275 feet, or, 40 feet below the spillway. The release dropped the water level about two feet.
At that time, Lake Hodges reservoir keeper (currently retired from that gig) Conway Bowman told Western Outdoor News the water level was too low to pump that water up to Olivenhain Reservoir, so the only option was to release it into the river below the dam.
Lake Hodges reopened to recreation on May 31, 2023, just two days short of a full year since the lake was closed for the repairs.
Private boat launching was not available, but rental boats, float tubes and kayaks were allowed along with shore fishing. Since the repairs are still underway, the State-mandated water level must remain several feet below the launch ramp which is why private boats cannot be put in. That remains the deal now, and anglers should expect that to remain the case indefinitely and not change anything close to “the near future.”
Considering the fact that the low water level required for dam repairs is what’s keeping the launch ramp out of action, it’s safe to say private boat launching won’t be returning to one of San Diego’s most storied bass fisheries for a long time.