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Sailing OKd, but Swimmers Left High and Dry


OAK VIEW — Visitors to Lake Casitas next summer may be able to sail small boats, but will not be allowed to swim, wade or water ski in the local drinking water supply.

However, officials will examine the feasibility of building a swimming pool or small water slide near the lake.

The Casitas Municipal Water District board of directors took the actions on a soggy Tuesday night at a sometimes heated meeting in Oak View that was attended by about 100 people.

After the board spent months studying expanded recreational uses at the popular Ojai Valley recreation area, the changes amount to little more than cautiously dipping a hypothetical toe into a reservoir where activities involving body contact are prohibited.

But the lengthy review failed to yield a consensus from a volunteer committee to guide the board through the debate and provoked sometimes passionate opinions over what activities should be allowed at a reservoir 60,000 people depend upon for drinking water.

"The steps we've taken are conservative," acknowledged water district board member Larry Whelen. "This [issue] is really a hot item. . . . It would be easier not to do anything on the lake."

But many people favor increased recreation from the lake's 35 miles of shoreline.

November's opening of a $9-million filtration plant that will treat water from Lake Casitas to drinking water standards opened the door for expanded recreational uses.

However, state health regulations require the treatment plant to operate for a year before sweeping changes to lake uses may even be considered. Even then, swimming and other body contact activities would require the passage of special legislation, something elected officials are reluctant to sponsor without a consensus on what activities would be allowed.

"We really are not in a hurry," board member Bill Austin said. "We must be sure we can protect water quality before we allow swimming in the lake."

But sufficient interest exists in swimming to prompt the board to investigate whether a pool could be built in the 6,200-acre park surrounding the lake.

"I don't think you're talking about a big-time water park; I think you're talking about a small-time water playground," said district General Manager John Johnson. "The board's conception of it was simply some area where people could get wet and cool off without actually getting into the lake."

Allowing sailboats on the lake is not anticipated to require special laws to be enacted. However, the approval of the state health department will be needed and perhaps some sort of environmental study.

Small sailboats are already allowed on Lake Cachuma in Santa Barbara County. In addition, kayaks and canoes have been permitted at Lake Casitas--with stringent regulations--for several months.

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