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Lodi Lake Nature Area still closed; to reopen next week

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Posted: Thursday, July 14, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 7:59 am, Thu Jul 14, 2011.

Lodi resident Virginia Moore remembers cleaning her childhood home on Turner Road with her mom and sisters while her father and brothers were out stacking burlap sandbags. The Mokelumne River was flooding again, and the men were working to prevent the waters from reaching houses near Lodi Lake.

"My mother said she didn't want anyone swimming through her house and thinking she wasn't a good housekeeper," Moore said.

The Lodi Lake docent recounted her mom's joke to a group of 30 children on Tuesday afternoon. She explained how the entire Lodi Lake Nature Area used to flood in the early 1950s before Camanche Dam was built.

The San Joaquin Community Center students were learning about the river flooding because they could not tour the Lodi Lake Nature Area, as it is still closed to the public.

The city closed the park on July 2 because water had flooded several of the trails in the nature area and stretched all the way to the front fence near the redwood trees. It was more than a foot deep in some locations.

Several weeks ago, East Bay Municipal Utility District released 5,000 cubic feet per second of water through Camanche Dam last week to avoid having the dam overflow from late-season rains and snowfall.

With the river flowing at a higher level, water seeped through the levee and the groundwater table into Pigs Lake, which then flooded the nature area.

Even though the water has receded back into Pigs Lake, the area will be closed until next week because crews need to clean up the damage, city of Lodi spokesman Jeff Hood said.

The city often closes the nature area during the winter when there are high winds, because staff is concerned about falling branches. There were similar concerns during the flooding, because the water saturated the tree roots and made them susceptible to falling, Hood said.

"It is not so much what had already (fallen), but what if someone is sitting and branches started falling," he said.

Water had filled the entire center of the nature area from the creek to the asphalt road.

About 10 trees fell over because of the flooding. By Wednesday, park workers had moved a fallen live oak that had blocked part of a trail into a nearby creek.

Park workers had stacked branches on the asphalt trail. The city will leave most of the fallen trees and branches in the park as long as they are not obstructing a trail.

A deflated raft that was either discarded or floated into the nature area was on the side of one of the trails.

Workers are expecting a big bloom of vegetation because the plants are not used to getting so much water, Hood said. Park crews might weed-whack some of the vegetation because the long stems curve over the trail.

With that many trees falling after such a small amount of flooding, it brings up questions about what would happen if the levee between the river and Pigs Lake disappears completely. There are only about 15 feet separating the two bodies of water in some areas, Hood said.

When the levee erodes completely, the flooding will be worse because Pigs Lake and parts of the nature area would become a river inlet. Most of the accessible areas in the 58-acre nature area would 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. In 2009, members of the California Conservation Corps installed plastic white sheeting with sandbags in an attempt to prevent any more erosion.

On Wednesday, the remnants of the plastic was ripped and jagged, and the levee has eroded past where the barrier used to be.

Late last year, the California Natural Resources Agency rejected the city's plan to reinforce the riverbank with more secure 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 edges of Pigs Lake.

The city plans to apply for the same grant through the agency again, and hopes that some testimony from fishery biologists will convince the state to allow the riprap.

Members of the agency told staff that if the levee collapsed, Pigs Lake could serve as a resting ground for salmon.

But Hood said other biologists told the city that then the inlet would actually provide a place for predators, mainly bass, to attack the salmon.

"Because of the timing of the river flows, predators could sit and wait for salmon to come up and down the river," Hood said.

The deadline for the grant application is this fall.

As a docent, Moore often walks through the nature area. She said the river is much more predictable with the dams than it was when she was a girl.

She hopes there is a solution to prevent Pigs Lake from merging with the river.

"We are sorry we might lose it. It is a unique place to show children turtles and plants that can only be found in that area and wouldn't exist without the river," she said.

Contact reporter Maggie Creamer at maggiec@lodi news.com or read her blog at www.lodinews.com/blogs/city_buzz.

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