The city of Lodi has shut down Lodi Lake Nature Area because of flooding from the Mokelumne River.
With the river flowing at a higher speed recently, water seeped through the riverbank into Pigs Lake in the nature area, causing it to flood.
The closure is a preview of what could happen if the city of Lodi does not find a solution to the eroded levee separating the lake from the river. Water flows in the low lying parts of the nature area and stretches all the way to the front fence. Redwood trees are surrounded by several inches of water.
City spokesman Jeff Hood, who walked through the nature area Tuesday morning, said water was more than a foot deep in some locations. It covered some of the trails, and trees have fallen.
The city will keep the area closed until the water starts to recede and the area becomes safe again, Hood said.
"We hope to get it open as soon as we can, but we are trying to balance the need to protect the public with the desire to have a popular recreation area open," he said.
The flooding comes after East Bay Municipal Utility District started releasing more water from Camanche Reservoir because of a wet winter and storms last Tuesday.
Last Thursday, the district released 5,000 cubic feet per second from the reservoir. As of 2 p.m. Tuesday, the district had decreased the flows to 4,200 cfs, spokesman Charles Hardy said. Last year, the river flowed at only about 1,000 cfs.
Even though the gate to the nature area was padlocked, a group of 10 Lodi teens threw their inner-tubes over the fence and hopped it around 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Sixteen-year-olds Joelle Beckman and Leslie Sanchez squealed as they walked through the cold water in flip flops. The two regularly come to the nature area to walk the trails and swim, but they only waded into the river on Tuesday.
The girls said they saw water covering the trails and a downed tree that looked like a park worker had cut a hole in so people can still walk on the trail.
"We saw a fish swimming on what is usually a trail. There are little waves everywhere. It's kind of fun," Sanchez said.
The riverbank has flooded the area in the past, and before the levee was built, the water even reached homes on Turner Road, said Kathy Grant, Lodi Lake docent coordinator.
The flooding gives the city an indication of what will happen when the riverbank fails, Hood said, although when that happens the flooding will be worse because Pigs Lake and parts of the nature area would become a river inlet.
"We'd lose more trees, we would have an issue with mosquitoes. We'd be the Lodi bayou," he said.
If nothing is done and the riverbank collapses, Hood said that most of the accessible areas in the 58-acre nature area will be covered in 3 to 5 feet of water when the river is high.
For years, city leaders have lobbied state and federal representatives, applied for grants and tried temporary solutions to save the riverbank.
Late last year, the California Natural Resources Agency rejected the city's plan to reinforce the riverbank with riprap, which is rock, sand and natural vegetation. The agency told city staff that it would be a more environmentally friendly solution to let the riverbank fail and build up a berm at the southern and western edge of Pigs Lake.
Mayor Bob Johnson said he is frustrated because farmers all along the river are allowed to protect their property from flooding using riprap.
"Yet we have been unable to get approval from state environmental agencies to do the same thing on our side. It's governmental stupidity at its best," he said.
The closure of the nature area illustrates what will happen if nothing is done, Johnson said.
"Right now, when the water recedes, Pigs Lake will ultimately dry out and we will be able to use the Nature Area again. When the levee blows out, we will lose Pigs Lake and the nature area for a long, long time," he said.