Failure notice from provider:
Connection Error:http_request_failed

Trolls under the bridge: Century old dam faces bleak future


The dry lake bed of Lake Hodges. Photo by Jeff Epp

Part I of 2 parts.

Every day, more than 300,000 cars and trucks thunder across the wide concrete bridge which carries Interstate 15 over Lake Hodges south of Escondido. Perhaps just a handful of these daily commuters or big rig drivers are fully aware of what lies below. Under this bridge, an aluminum boat and fisherman could be bobbing among the treetops. On another day, it might be the peaceful scene of a mule deer lying perfectly still on dry ground among the reeds. Whether full or not, Lake Hodges is a diverse treasure of wildlife habitat, world class bass fishing, biking trails, birdwatching, hiking trails, and a sophisticated, lifesaving water storage and conservation project for our arid region.
But there are some trolls under this bridge as well. Lake Hodges rises or falls and provides or not depending on how it is managed. As we take a moment to slow down and peer under that bridge we may see a few of those trolls.

The bright idea of giving birth to Lake Hodges came from two historical figures in the area, William Henshaw (think, Lake Henshaw) and Colonel Ed Fletcher (think Fletcher Parkway or Fletcher Point on the lake itself.) With financing provided by the Santa Fe Railway, they constructed a dam across San Dieguito Creek. The source of the financing became the source of the lake’s name: W.E. Hodges was the railroad’s vice president.
The design of Lake Hodges Dam was started in 1917 by engineer John S. Eastwood. Eastwood had designed several dams throughout California, and he designed the Hodges Dam later in life. While striking in appearance, the Hodges Dam is not unique and was designed like others earlier in Eastwood’s career. The structure consists of 23 hollow 24-foot wide, 24-inch-thick reinforced concrete arches, supported with buttresses of mass concrete. It was 550 feet long and 137 feet high.
In comparison to other public utility projects, particularly those designed in the current web of laws and regulations, the actual construction of Hodges Dam was relatively quick: the actual pouring and placing of concrete took only 12 months, from November 1917 to November 1918.
The dam survived its first challenge before construction was even complete. In March 1918, severe flooding in the area overtopped the dam. Credit to the design and the fact that construction was 60% complete, the project was undamaged.

This November, Lake Hodges dam will be 105 years old, but it faces a bleak future. As one of nine reservoirs maintained by the City of San Diego, it is part of a complex water system and water supply chain. By itself, the City of San Diego system serves about 1.5 million customers. Customers aren’t just in the City of San Diego, but also in the cities of Del Mar, Coronado, and Imperial Beach. And that’s just the City of San Diego system, which is networked with a much larger system run by the San Diego County Water Authority, other cities, and many other water districts in the county.
Here’s the big picture for some context: Water in our area comes from two basic sources: local supplies, which are about 10% to 15% of annual needs, and imported water obtained through the San Diego County Water Authority, which supplies about 85% to 90% of annual needs. The source of the imported water is conserved water from the Imperial Irrigation District to the east, desalinated water from the Carlsbad desalination plant, and purchases from higher on the food chain, the Metropolitan Water District. The Metropolitan Water District gets the bulk of its water from the Colorado River and northern California.
At Lake Hodges, the City of San Diego owns and controls the dam itself, which is then part of the water systems of the San Dieguito Water District and the Santa Fe Irrigation District —and shares pipes and pumps connected with the Olivenhain Water District and the San Diego County Water Authority.
As a fisherman might observe in thinking of all the agencies involved, “there’s a lot of poles in that water…”
In the early 2000’s Lake Hodges took on a new and innovative importance when it became part of the San Diego County Water Authority’s Emergency & Carryover Storage Projects & Facilities. This system of reservoirs, interconnected pipelines and pumping stations is designed to make water available to the entire San Diego region in the event of an interruption in imported water deliveries.
At the detail level, the facilities connect Lake Hodges to the Olivenhain Reservoir—which is 1.25 miles away . . . and uphill. An inlet/outlet structure is located just below the surface of Hodges Reservoir. The structure is connected to the pump station by a 200-foot-long tunnel. The pump station either draws or discharges water through a 10-foot diameter underground pipeline to the Olivenhain Reservoir.
The connection gave the Water Authority an ability to store thousands of acre-feet of water in Hodges Reservoir for emergency use and also allows water to be pumped back and forth between Hodges Reservoir and Olivenhain Reservoir. From Olivenhain Reservoir, which sits at a much higher elevation than Lake Hodges, water can be distributed throughout the region.
But wait, there’s more: When water is transferred downhill from Olivenhain Reservoir into Hodges Reservoir, it generates up to 40-megawatts of peak hydroelectric energy, enough power to annually sustain nearly 26,000 homes. Annual revenue for this electricity ranges somewhere between $2.8 and $3.0 million per year and helps offset facility operating costs and support future Water Authority projects and has been doing so since the project was completed and went operational in 2012.
An organization chart for Lake Hodges would be complicated. Whether looking upwards and downwards at the supply chain, or across the network, at least ten agencies are involved in one fashion or the other. And of course, one must not forget that the dam structure itself is also regulated by the State of California’s Division of Safety of Dams.

Good fish stories are only possible when there are fisherman and fishing, neither of which has been able to use Lake Hodges for quite some time. However, in better days, Lake Hodges was a fisherman’s paradise, with long and meandering shores, inlets, and varying depths of water, including flat areas with brush, all places where fish like to hang out. There are Florida-strain largemouth bass, crappie, bluegill, channel catfish, bullhead and carp in the lake, with various weight, number, and size limits depending on the fish.
It’s a long swim from Florida to California, so one may ask about the “Florida strain” of bass. As the story goes, a mid-century recreation director for the City of San Diego wondered why Florida bass seemed so much bigger than those in California. This led to experiments introducing Florida bass strains into local lakes, including Hodges, and observing results over the years. The casual experiment was a success, resulting in larger bass in area lakes, including Hodges.
Obviously, no big fat bass have been hauled from the lake in recent years. But in former times, these larger bass landed Lake Hodges on the lists of record weight bass caught around the world. Although larger bass have been caught in Japan and the world record is a 22-pound, 4 oz. bass caught in Georgia in 1932, Lake Hodges produced a 20.25-pound bass on May 30, 1995.

Over the years, a long and varied system of great hiking trails has been developed. The lake area is located squarely within the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority— an independent local government agency responsible for creating and managing a natural open space park in the San Dieguito River Valley. The Authority is governed by elected officials from the County of San Diego and the City of San Diego, as well as Del Mar, Escondido, Poway, and Solana Beach, and one public member representing the Citizens Advisory Committee.
The Coast to Crest trail, which extends 70 miles and will eventually link Del Mar to Volcan runs along the north side of the lake. It is popular with walkers, hikers, and bicyclists. Near Interstate 15, the lake is spanned by an impressive 990- foot- long suspension bridge opened in 2009. And on the far eastern end of the lake, abutting the fertile San Pasqual Valley, are the Sikes Adobe and the Mule Hill historical sites. All are located on well-maintained trails with frequent informational kiosks and monuments along the trail to combine education and exercise.
To be continued next week . . .


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *