Dredging Laguna Lake before the rains makes sense

October 14, 2014

laguna lake 2OPINION By JIM FOLEY

An open letter to the San Luis Obispo City Council:

I have been a resident of San Luis Obispo for 35 years, 18 spent living on Laguna Lake. For well over a decade, I and many other people have been urging the city to dredge Laguna Lake to improve the water quality. The last 40 years of non-management have led to a lake so shallow that water turbidity and temperature have led to algae blooms, fish die-offs, and the general decline in most recreational uses of the lake.

Right now, with the lake near empty, we have a tremendous opportunity to deepen the lake at a fraction of the cost (not the $8 million to $10 million estimated in the plan). I do understand that the permits take time; permits should have been started back in July. If this action had been taken when the plan was approved three months ago we would be seeing thousands of cubic yards of silt being removed from the lake at this very moment.

It is my understanding that the City of Atascadero had help expediting the permit process to dredge Atascadero Lake in order to take advantage of the drought conditions. SLO City Natural Resource Manager Bob Hill has said that the lake bottom would make the working conditions very challenging. There are methods to combat that- just ask the heavy equipment operators currently removing silt from Atascadero Lake.

I have sent you my rough draft of a proposal for dredging Laguna Lake. Admittedly, it is written without any dredging or construction experience and is put forth only as an example. I have spent several weeks researching what other cities all over the country have done to deal with dredging and silt removal. It is written as if I owned the lake and had to hire local equipment operators to do the job.

It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out it is cheaper to empty the silt out of the lake when it is dry then when it is full of water. The proposal was written before the numbers were released for the dredging of Atascadero Lake and I am relieved to find that the costs are not that far apart. For the initial 30,000 cubic yards that would remain on site, my proposal estimated $8.33/cubic yard. This would be the cheapest portion since we wouldn’t need to pay to dispose of the fill dirt. I suspect that the remaining 120,000 cu yards could be removed at the price Atascadero is paying for their final phase of dredging which is $14.35/ cubic yard, an increase of $5.00/cubic yard to pay for disposal.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have. My main purpose in writing this proposal is to urge the City to take advantage of the drought conditions and save an enormous amount of money in dredging the lake.



  1. JMO says:

    Good article Jim. Unfortunately this all should have been planned earlier, like you said. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know the lake would have fallen to this level as early as the end of the last rainy season. There was a zero chance that we would have had rain over the summer and the evaporation rate could easily have been estimated.

    I know it is too late, but looking at a map of the lake, it would be most economical and beneficial in the long run to make a smaller (area wise) and deeper lake by just balancing the cut and fill to make islands and wider shore park areas. This also could be done in stages, with the easy work in the presently dry areas done first, then the traditional dredging with a pump and pipe network to fill in the island areas with sediment from deeper areas (and this could be done after the lake fills again).

    By having a smaller surface area, we reduce evaporation. By having a deeper lake, with steeper side banks, we have less plant growth on the side of the lake that again increases evapotranspiration. In the end we should have a healthier, more useful lake.

    Also, we should plan for sediment basins on the sides of the lake where stream flow goes in. That way we can trap the sediment first before it gets into the lake and remove it (if needed) at a much cheaper cost in the future.

    My ideas aren’t original. Jim’s thoughts are, though. And that is to take advantage of what nature offers us.

    (3) 5 Total Votes - 4 up - 1 down
  2. Pelican1 says:

    No doubt the dredging of the lake will require a certain level of environmental review including a CEQA document to identify any and all impacts regarding any project proposal…this ALWAYS seems to take an inordinate amount of time and money.
    Might I suggest that as part of the process, the Operating Engineers Training Trust located at Camp San Luis Obispo be contacted (805-544-8899) to inquire as to the use of their resources to help with the dredging. They are a apprenticeship school that teaches the operation of heavy equipment. As part of their educational program, they may be able to lend support to the project. Any cost saving is a good thing.

    (9) 15 Total Votes - 12 up - 3 down
    • MaryMalone says:

      You are an absolute font of information.

      Great idea about contacting the apprenticeship school.

      (5) 11 Total Votes - 8 up - 3 down
      • Pelican1 says:

        Thanks :-) It’s taken many, many years of networking.

        (1) 5 Total Votes - 3 up - 2 down
  3. SLOBIRD says:

    Sorry, JIM FOLEY, but you are not politically connected or this project would be underway. You do not have position with a political party, Downtown Association, Chamber of Commerce or the developers (Grossman, Madonna/Clint Pierce, Rob Rossi). You are just a serf! The City only wants your money, not your input into problem solving. What did you get under Measure Y $5.7 Million a year since 2007? Did the City buy any Open Space Land (nope, just maintained what they had which they already were doing), pave neighborhoods (nope, just Downtown, Madonna and Los Osos), remodel Senior Center (yea, but the most lean project they could – could it to the Police Dispatch Center), did the City do anything for Neighborhood Enhancement (yea, how do you folks like having Cal Poly move the new housing project into your neighborhood), did the City hire more employees (yea, about 22 / 28 depending who you talk to)?

    Just keep voting for more Tax Revenue for the City’s Special Projects – not yours, just their projects!

    (10) 20 Total Votes - 15 up - 5 down
    • womanwhohasbeenthere says:

      SLOBIRD you are so right. No one at city hall cares about the Laguna Lake area. It is the most affordable family-friendly neighborhood in town within walking distance to K-8 schools and has decent local shopping. Which means no tourist will ever set foot there. There is no Bubble Gum Alley, no historic building, no cultural artifacts, no unique architecture, no five-star restaurants, no public art or galleries, no wine tasting opportunities nor any conceivable life-enriching experiences. This means residents there are irrelevant to city hall. They exist only to pay taxes. Do not- repeat not – ever expect to get anything from city hall for this neighborhood. Traffic concerns from unchecked development on Los Osos Valley Road? Lake drying up? Trees dying? Sidewalks breaking apart from settling? Too bad. Guess you’ll just have to fork over more money via Measure G so other residents won’t have these problems.

      (7) 15 Total Votes - 11 up - 4 down
    • Pelican1 says:

      In a lot of ways, Laguna Lake is a treasure.Many, many children have had their first fishing experience at the lake. Many, many others have had a close up experience with the water fowl that inhabit the lake… Yes, even feeding the ducks and geese.
      I am rather certain that there are some who would love the lake to go dormant so it can be filled in and developed, but that would be a travesty.
      Lets all work together to help sustain some of the charm of what once was San Luis Obispo.

      (4) 8 Total Votes - 6 up - 2 down
  4. Jorge Estrada says:


    (7) 13 Total Votes - 10 up - 3 down

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