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Lopez Lake reaches 100% capacity, spills for the first time in 25 years

Lopez Lake Spilling
Water overflows into the spillway at Lopez Lake on the morning of March 23, 2023. (Dave Alley/KEYT)

LOPEZ LAKE, Calif. -- Lopez Lake reached 100% capacity early Thursday morning, spilling over for the first time in 25 years.

According to the San Luis Obispo County Public Works website, the lake hit full capacity just before 5 a.m., reaching a point many thought would be unimaginable just three months.

"At approximately 5 o'clockl this morning, we finally started to see Lake Lopez spilling over the spillway and into Arroyo Grande Creek," said Kate Ballantyne, San Luis Obispo County Public Works Deputy Director. "The amount of water that's spilling into the creek at this point is about 90 cubic feet per second and we anticipate that amount of water will increase to about 300-to-400 cubic feet per second in the coming days."

In December, Lopez Lake was just at 22% capacity, close its the all-time low.

"I saw it when it was around 22-23% full," said Arroyo Grande resident Bill Ranelletti while observing the spillway Thursday morning. and I've been coming out once a month since then and I saw it at 50% and I was getting excited about that."

However, an extremely wet winter that brought a series of storms over the past three months has allowed the lake to completely refill.

"It's beautiful," said Jason Wahlen, while watching the water spill over from Lopez Drive on Thursday morning. "It's a relief to see the lake at full capacity and super grateful."

The dramatic transformation of the lake was completed Thursday morning when water began to flow into the spillway for the first time since 1998.

Once word began to spread the lake was spilling, visitors began to arrive to witness the historical event in person.

"I love it!" said Michele Dracup, who drove from Nipomo to see the water flow over the spillway. "Totally dramatic! It's amazing. I love it. The air, the water, hearing the noise." 

Cars were parked along Lopez Drive, with many partially blocking both sides of Lopez Drive. Sightseers were on both sides of the roads, taking pictures and viewing the action as the water overflowed and then ran down the spillway.

"There's cars parked everywhere and we're basically in the middle of the street doing this (interview), said Wahlen. I think a lot of people are coming out to see for themselves what it looks like. Some have never seen the lake at full capacity."

By around 9 a.m. there were so many people and cars in the vicinity of the spillway, the California Highway Patrol and San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office was called out to help enforce traffic.

San Luis Obispo County Public Works expects water to continue spilling for at least a few weeks.

"The length of time the spill will occur is really weather dependent," said Ballentyne. "If we get more rain, it will last longer, but right now, we still have a lot of water in the upper watershed moving down into the lake and because the lake is at full capacity it will continue to bypass and flow into the creek below the dam."

Late in the morning, San Luis Obispo County lifted the Evacuation Warning that had been in effect since Monday for portions of Arroyo Grande and Oceano that are along the Arroyo Grande Creek.

"Our Office of Emergency Services has just lifted the evacuation warning based on no significant rain in the near forecast, due to our observations of how much water is leaving the reservoir, our expectations for what's going to be leaving the reservoir for the next few days, the weather forecast and just on the ground observations," said Ballentyne.

With the water expected to spill for the foreseeable future, many more visitors are anticipated to check out the water in the coming days.

"We know everyone is excited to see it in person," said Ballentyne. "There is very little, to no parking up here. There's a lot of traffic and it's a constricted roadway and so we encourage people to be very safe. Slow drive bys is probably the best way to see it and there will be many opportunities to come check it out over the next few weeks."

Article Topic Follows: Outdoors

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Dave Alley

Dave Alley is a reporter and anchor at News Channel 3-12. To learn more about Dave, click here.


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