CARLSBAD — Bowing to public protest, the Costa Real Municipal Water District's board of directors has decided to abandon plans to drain Lake Calavera to prepare the land for development.
The decision came Wednesday night after nearly a month of heated protest from Carlsbad and Oceanside residents who claimed the remote lake is one of the last vestiges of green in North County.
"Within a few years this area will be completely covered with new development," said Mary Friedman, whose home overlooks the marshy lake.
"North County will start to look like the inner city, filled with nothing but cement and asphalt--save the beach--if we don't do something to keep green areas here and there," she said.
The lake, located in Carlsbad on the Oceanside border, is blocked from public access and visible only from a single block of homes along a bluff just inside the Oceanside city limits.
Opponents of the plan to save the lake claim the brackish waters are polluted, and almost everyone involved in the controversy agrees that the 35-acre body of water and its surrounding 200 acres are a haven for mosquitoes, algae and illegal hunters.
Still, residents, historians and environmentalists have vowed to save the lake from falling prey to North County developers.
The lake, which supplied drinking water for Carlsbad until the late 1950s--when the area started importing water from the Metropolitan Water District--has since become thick with growth and algae, making it unfit for drinking or irrigation, officials said.
With development closing in around the lake in recent years, city and water officials have become concerned about their liability in the event of an accidental drowning. Two people have died in the lake in the past two years.
Recently, Costa Real officials learned that the water district's liability insurance had been discontinued because of the increased risk posed by residents living closer to the lake, said Bill Meadows, the district's general manager.
Costa Real officials have since secured liability insurance with a statewide association of water agencies, but officials still acknowledge the risk of having residents live near the unattended lake.
In August, Carlsbad city officials and Costa Real directors announced their intent to drain Lake Calavera.
"The idea was to sell or lease the property and then use the revenues to improve the district's water system," said Meadows.
But economic and legal snags kept city and water officials from draining the lake. Costa Real owns the lake, but Carlsbad city officials have to approve any development proposals before the land can be sold to a potential developer. Also, Costa Real officials would have to contract for environmental assessment and impact studies before the lake could be drained.
"The board simply decided that it was not worth the time, effort or expense involved in draining the lake," Meadows said.
City and Costa Real officials now have to decide what to do with the lake site. Friends of Lake Calavera Open Land Reserve, made up of residents who vigorously protested the planned draining, hope to see the lake turned into a regional park or environmental reserve. But officials have not abandoned the prospect of future development on the site.
"There is some sentiment that the board should sell the property under the condition that the lake be maintained," Meadows said.
Until officials decide the future of Lake Calaveras, the Carlsbad City Council has authorized pickup of any trash the lake preservationist group can collect before Sept. 21 in a one-time cleanup effort.
"The lake has become a trash dump," said Cathy Baum, a member of the group.
From their bluff-top homes, Baum, Friedman and their neighbors can hear people sneak into the lake site at night to dump items ranging from washing machines to sofas.
"We're talking heavy-duty cleanup here. But maybe this will convince officials to make this into a place people will respect," Baum said.