Don’t expect Lake Hodges Dam overflow

Lake Hodges Dam overflow 2011/Ben Sevier

In a rainy season, Lake Hodges Dam last overflowed in February-March 2011 — it also overflowed in February 2005 — but despite the record rains this season, it looks to be standing tall and holding firm.

The lake was at 75 percent capacity as of last week, according to the  City of San Diego’s Public Utilities Department that has owned and operated the reservoir and dam since purchased in 1925. Hodges Reservoir was created with the building of Hodges Dam on San Dieguito Creek in 1918.

Seems that the days of massive, for San Diego, rain and overflowing dam may never happen again. Facing an expected 3-storm display in the next 10 days, the San Diego County Water Authority announced today that it transferred water out of Lake Hodges for the first time to create room to capture rain and runoff from storms expected to move into the region.

The water was shifted to the Olivenhain Reservoir through the $1.5 billion Emergency & Carryover Storage Project, which increased the capacity of Lake Hodges, connected it to the Olivenhain Reservoir, pipeline to the San Vicente Reservoir and the dam raise. Begun in 1992, the project was completed and operational in 2013 with the completion of the Lake Hodges pump station.

The storage project initially was pitched by civil engineers and water officials as a way to ensure up to six months of local water supplies were available and could be moved around the region after an emergency, such as an earthquake that damages the large-scale pipelines delivering imported water into the region.

It’s being used in this case to draw water out of Lake Hodges  to the San Vicente Reservoir, the body of water near Lakeside where the dam was raised by 117 feet a few years ago.

The Water Authority said 7,500 acre-feet of water was transferred, enough to meet the annual needs of 15,000 single-family households.

Lake Hodges now has 8,000 acre-feet of room to capture water from the upcoming rainfall.

“This year marks the first time since we completed our Lake Hodges Pumped Storage facilities that Mother Nature has given us enough rainfall to allow us to move a significant amount of captured runoff from Lake Hodges to further increase our region’s water reserves,” said Mark Muir, chairman of the SDCWA Board of Directors.

“These facilities will continue to boost water supply reliability for our region’s 3.3 million people and $222 billion economy for decades,”  Muir said.

Earlier this year, water officials weren’t so sure.

“If the weather pattern we have continues through February, in all likelihood Lake Hodges will fill and spill this spring,” said Mike Bardin in January. He’s general manager of the Santa Fe Irrigation District, which supplies water to Rancho Santa Fe, Solana Beach and Fairbanks Ranch, the reservoir’s major customer.

Since Santa Fe owns a share of the water captured in Lake Hodges, local rainfall means a greater supply of cheaper, local water for the district and its customers. In recent years, the supply of local water has been limited.

The reservoir also serves the San Dieguito Water District. Not surprisingly, given the original premise for the dam and reservoir was to have the way for the creation of upscale homes around Rancho Santa Fe.

When full, the reservoir has 1,234 surface acres, a maximum water depth of 115 feet and 27 shoreline miles. Hodges Reservoir has a water storage capacity of 30,251 acre-feet. Hodges Reservoir has a water storage capacity of 30,251 acre feet. Water levels are monitored weekly.

2011 spillover/File

The 2011 spillover that began Feb. 26 and ran into March turned normally fast-flowing 2-lane Del Dios Highway unto a parking lot as people from throughout the county flocked to see the rare sight of water cascading over the dam 115 feet below to Del Dios Gorge, formerly the pathway of the San Dieguito River.

In fact, the dam became the county;s leading tourist attraction akin to the mass wildflower bloom during the spring following the devastating 2007 Witch Creek Fire. California Highway Patrol officers and San Diego County deputies were summoned to contain order as people snapped photos, shot videos and did their social networking 2011-style.

Lake Hodges Reservoir overflowed in February and March 2005 following the last episode of locally heavy, sustained rainfall. The lake had been only 20 percent full in October 2004, following years of drought.

The 2005 event likewise turned the dam into one of San Diego County’s leading tourist attractions for a month with pedestrians overflowing normally bustling Del Dios Highway turning it into a virtual parking lot.

Prior to that, the lake overflowed in 1995 and in the early 1980s.

The 1995 spill event resulted in 150 horses from the Del Mar Fairgrounds and Showpark horse arena being evacuated from waist-deep water after heavy rains and a Hodges spill. Each spillover event attracted thousands to the bluffs overlooking the dam.

The 1980s overflow caused serious flooding because the mouth of the river hadn’t been cleared. It was cleared all along the water’s path  after that.

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