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Lopez Lake reaches 90% capacity, close to spilling for the first time in 25 years

Lopez Lake
Dave Alley/KEYT
Lopez Lake looking towards marina and boat ramp on March 16, 2023 showing the lake level at 90% of capacity.

LOPEZ LAKE, Calif. -- The dramatic rise of Lopez Lake continues to reach levels not seen at the South San Luis Obispo County reservoir in many years.

Recent rain storms during the winter season have completely reinvigorated the popular lake located close to Arroyo Grande. In early December, the lake was at a worrisome low level at just 22% capacity, close to its all-time low mark.

"We're just over 90% now, which is pretty incredible," said Brian Wilder, Lopez Lake Supervising Park Ranger. "We're about five feet from the spillway, which means water will start going over the spillway and that's at about 522 feet, so we're about five feet below that. Came up about 25 percent in the last week, which is really impressive for Lopez. It's typically pretty slow filling."

Now, a complete transformation has taken place over the course of the past three months as the lake is reaching historically high levels.

"It's a little bit crazy to see the water level at this high," said Arroyo Grande resident John Riedel while packing up after spending a few hours on the water while fishing on Thursday. "I've been coming here for years and just going around the lake driving around today looking I don't even recognize the spots that I used to fish. Most of those are 30, 40, 50 feet under water now."

On Thursday morning, the lake reached more than 90% capacity, the highest its measured since 2012.

Over the past week, the lake has seen a significant bump in its water level, rising 15 feet from March 10 to March 16, a staggering 25% jump in that time frame.

"All of our creeks are flowing heavily right now, so the water is still coming up very fast for this lake, so right now, it's at a rate of about a tenth of a percent every couple of hours, which is fast for here," said Wilder. "We're going to continue to get rise. We have more rain coming next week, so I'd anticipate we would probably end up spilling by end of next week by the latest."

With the water continuing to arrive through still-running tributaries, the lake is expected to spill for the first time in 25 years.

"Last October, November we were really worried about water and drinking water for the Five Cities area, and as you can see behind me, that seems changed quite a bit out here, so it's good to see our reservoir full," said Wilder. "Essentially, it's drinking water and that's really important about this lake as it supplies water to everybody that lives in the Five Cities area."

San Luis Obispo County Public Works said it expects the lake to spill probably within the next 7-to-10 days.

With the water level so high, many visitors are driving out to the lake to check out the scenery for themselves, including David Puro, who lives near Avila Beach.

“Since the last time I was here, it's pretty amazing how much it's come up. It's dramatically higher," said Puro. "I can't believe how quickly it's happened. To have changed this much so quickly, I wouldn't have imagined it was possible, especially in our area.”

Wilder said as sunnier conditions arrive in the future, he's expecting a very busy time at the lake, especially during approaching summer months.

As for the right now, he added it's also a great time to witness firsthand just how dramatic the rise in the water level has been.

"Come on out to the lake," said Wilder. "It's beautiful out here. We have another round of storms coming next week, but after that some more sun, so it's a beautiful place to just come and check out for the day. A lot of recreational opportunities are going to be had this summer. It's going to be like the Lopez of old that people remember."

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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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