Despite the fact that Atascadero Lake falls under the jurisdiction of the City Parks and Recreation Department, a group of dedicated citizens is responsible for accomplishing leaps and bounds in the restoration and maintenance of the lake. Friends of the Atascadero Lake, a nonprofit dedicated to the wellbeing of the body of water, has for years worked to restore, protect and improve the lake.
Founded in 2013, FOAL maintains its staunch advocacy of the lake and contributes to its wellbeing on a daily basis. Though the organization strives to maintain a cooperative approach with the City instead of an adversarial one, it took years for the City to take the group seriously. FOAL President Bob Edmond said that it was only until the council realized that the group was not going to give up lobbying and that they had the best intentions in mind for the lake that the City began to work with them.
“We’ve been recognized at this point,” Edmond said, “and initially we were not.”
FOAL secretary Nancy Hair said that the City offers fundraising opportunities for the organization. She referred to the Tamale Festival where the council allowed FOAL to host beer and wine sales for the event and collect the proceeds, which earned them approximately $14,000. That being said, both FOAL and some private citizens have voiced how they would like to see the council dedicate a certain percentage of the city’s budget to the lake. The city council works with several nonprofits to help them raise money for their individual causes and must make tough decisions between what they can do and what they must do. Still, those in favor of the lake contend that it is a public attraction and should be maintained by the City.
FOAL spends $5,100 for electricity to pump water into the lake six months out of the year. The nonprofit would like to see the City take responsibility for the general maintenance of the lake so its members can focus on beautification and enhancement. A portion of the check donated by Quota International of Atascadero, a local nonprofit, would go toward the lake’s electric bill.
FOAL has already provided three aeration devices to improve the health of the body of water and plans to add more when funds become available. The organization also paid for the drilling of a new well and the installation of pipes to help provide water to the lake during the dry season. The lake was originally fed by three wells but due to lack of upkeep, they filled with silt and became useless. Hair said they sent a letter to the City requesting that it maintain the new year well provided by FOAL, but have not received a response. The nonprofit continues to work on the development of high-quality trail placards that will be placed along the 1.3-mile path around the lake.
FOAL volunteers work to keep the lake beautiful in more ways than just acting as advocates. Every day — sometimes two times a day — volunteers clear the screen on the intake pump located in Atascadero Creek. The screen is designed to keep Steelhead trout, an endangered fish, from getting killed by the pipe that feeds the lake but easily becomes clogged with debris, making it inefficient. Incidentally, steelhead and rainbow trout are genetically identical. The only difference between the two fish is that steelhead migrate from the ocean and into freshwater streams for breeding purposes from December to May while rainbow trout spend the entirety of their lives in freshwater.
Issues surrounding Atascadero Lake can be as murky as the water can get and there is no easy solution. Hair said that since the lake is publicly owned, any changes or maintenance the City wants to undertake must go through governmental entities that snarl any process with red tape.
To further muddy the waters, the lake is designated as part of a Blue Line Stream by the U.S. Department of the Interior Geological Survey because it shows a solid or broken blue line on 7.5 Minute Series quadrangle maps which makes it subject to federal environmental regulations. In short, numerous studies and reports must be completed before anything can be done to the lake. For example, in order to curb the overgrowth of algae, a consultant was hired to do a study on how to address the issue. Once the protocol was devised it had to go through multiple approvals before it could be implemented. Furthermore, when the lake was dredged, agricultural businesses wanted to purchase the soil as fertilizer, however, the government would not allow it to be sold due to contamination issues.
There are some benefits of having Department of Fish and Wildlife oversight. Edmond said that the department agreed to stock the lake with sterile trout for fishing once the City builds a fish screen at the spillway. Evidently, the lake does contain some fish — at least enough to support the bald eagles that have taken up residence at the park.
On May 18th the Friends of Atascadero Lake will host its fourth annual LakeFest. The organization also hosts cleanup days throughout the year where the public is invited to help keep the lake’s perimeter clear of overgrowth and trash to help maintain its natural beauty.