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As Lake Dries Up, the Remains of Submerged Town Appear

December 02, 1990|From The Associated Press

SPANISH FLAT, Calif. — An old bridge has risen and foundations are peeking up from the water as the town of Monticello--destroyed and flooded more than 30 years ago--reemerges from a drought-shrunken lake.

With each dry day, receding Lake Berryessa reveals more remains of the town, once a thriving farming community before the government claimed it for a dam and reservoir in the 1950s.

"There was almost nothing left when they got through," remembered Harold Moskowitz, 64. "They paid us off, gave buildings away, tore some down and burned some. What they couldn't burn they buried."

Now hundreds of tourists and former town residents are trekking to the lake, about 50 miles northeast of San Francisco, to glimpse the past and remember the town's century of life.

"I think people are coming back because they are still distressed and remember being uprooted," said Ronnie McGuinnis, a maintenance worker for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages the lake and recreational area.

About 500 people lived in the valley around the turn of the century but the population dwindled to about 125 by the 1950s when water was getting scarce as Northern California grew. The federal government formed a plan with Solano County to dam Putah River to create a reservoir in the valley, which sits mostly in adjacent Napa County.

The 1,000-foot-long, 304-foot-high Monticello Dam created a reservoir that supplies Solano County.

Berryessa normally is three miles across at its widest point and 26 miles long, but is about one-third that size after losing 60% of its water. Last week, the lake surface fell to 377 feet above sea level--nearly one dozen feet lower than during the drought of 1976-77 and 63 feet below normal.

"If it doesn't rain, this lake could dry up in a few years, then you'll really get to see the whole town," said Jim Peterson, maintenance foreman for the reclamation bureau.

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