After being drawn down for 13 years, Lake Perris water levels are on the rise
By JIM MATTHEWS
The water level at Lake Perris has come up nearly 15 vertical feet since early last year as the Department of Water Resources (DWR) wraps up its dam-strengthening work. It is now adding water in stages to test the dam’s integrity, and it should be back a full pool, depending on water availability, by December this year, according to John Rowe, superintendent of the Lake Perris State Recreation Area.
The dam remediation process began in 2005 after studies showed the dam likely would not withstand a major earthquake. The extensive work involved excavating the face of the dam deeper into the ground so that its footing was anchored in bedrock. Fill dirt was quarried from the east end of the drawn down lake, which is why the south and east ends of the lake had been closed to public access.
With the major work done, Rowe said the DWR was currently adding water at the rate of about 200 acre feet per day, which is raising the lake at about 1 1/2-inches per day. The lake elevation at full pool is 1,588 feet, and the low pool goal for the construction work was 1,563 feet, which was met in 2005. Since 2005, the lake continued to drop because of water demands and drought, falling about another 19 feet below that low-pool goal to as low as 1,544 feet in June, 2016. As of this week, the lake is currently back at 1,563 feet elevation and coming up.
For anglers and recreational users at the lake, Rowe said nearly the entire lake’s shoreline will be open soon. Currently, shore access is again allowed all around the east end to the Indian Rock area. Rowe said May 1 was his goal to reopen the Bernasconi Beach side of the lake to both boating, fishing, and other recreational use, but he hinted that could happen earlier. He also said the three of the four boat ramps have water on them again, and the fourth should be back in the water soon. With the rising water level, the area for high speed boat traffic will increase again, too.
An avid angler, Rowe is excited to see the water up and flooding the vegetation that has grown up in the east end and all other shoreline areas over the past 13 years as the water level dropped. This flooded brush provides exceptional fish habitat and nutrients that will help the fishery thrive.
“It’s going to be incredible. It wouldn’t surprise me that over the next five years if Perris becomes the best bass fishery in the region again,” said Rowe, who has been fishing the lake about once a week since the water has been coming up. “We’ve always had big bass, but this is just going to make it better.”
As part of the mitigation for the damage done to the fishery by the drawdown and excavation work, there are now “hundreds” of rock structures that will create exceptional habitat for the bass, panfish, and catfish in the lake. Quinn Granfors, with the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), has been supervising the habitat creation. The rock structures will be in five to 30 feet of water once the lake is filled back up, and anglers fishing the east end from shore or boat can see the piles of rock and gravel as the water is just starting to reach some of the structures. There are also catfish spawning tubes placed in these areas, and Granfors was hoping to get some catfish to planted to jump-start the recovery of this species.
The bass, bluegill, and redear fisheries have remained relatively healthy during the drawdown, but the increasing size of the lake will open up more spawning and shoreline habitat, allowing the populations of all the lake’s species to increase dramatically.
Rowe said the bass had been starting to move up into the shallows preparing for the spawn before the latest cold snap.
“I haven’t seen any fish on beds, yet, but there were a lot of fish in the shallows. The water temperatures had climbed up to 58 degrees before this latest weather, but they have dropped back down to 54 now,” said Rowe.
Anglers can see video footage of some of the fish structures, including some aerial views, by going to the Lake Perris SRA’s Facebook page. The post was just added this past week, so it also shows the current water level.
For more information on the Lake Perris SRA, you can go to the website at www.parks.ca.gov/LakePerris/ or call 951-940-5600. For an update on the fishing, anglers can call the marina at 951-657-2179.