Mercury occurs in deposits throughout the world. Mercury, also called Quicksilver, is a naturally occurring heavy metal that can be found in the mountains surrounding Lake Nacimiento. It will naturally leach out of the soil and move downstream towards lower ground. In 1868 the Klau Mine opened and while in operation produced 18,000 iron flasks of mercury. The mine closed in 1960. It has since been declared a Super Fund Clean-up Site. Mercury contamination from the mines site washes down into Las Tablas Creek and then into Lake Nacimiento, and settles to the bottom of the lake in the sediment.
Because of the health hazards that mercury presents the San Luis Obispo County Health Department in 2009 issued a health advisory warning people to limit their consumption of fish from Lake Nacimiento. The advisory is still in effect.
The greatest threat to private property and recreational facilities around Lake Nacimiento is a fire. The lake is in a Cal Fire designated severe fire hazard zone which imposes restrictions on fires allowed during the fire season (April to November). Every year there is usually a fire around or near the lake, mostly started by negligence or illegal activity. Going into our 6th year of the drought the hazard has rarely been greater as brush is over grown and dry, trees are stressed, and high dry grass is abundant. In the past we have had fires started by falling trees taking down power lines, ATVs going through dry grass, illegal burning of trash or debris, and large camp fires that put sparks in the air that can stay live for hundreds of yards.
Cal Fire mans a station on the south shore at Las Tablas during the season. There is also a permanent station at Heritage Ranch. Stations from Paso Robles and Bradley also respond when needed. There are air resources stationed at Paso Robles airport. However, many of these resources get called away to other fires and may not be available to respond quickly. In one fire instance 2 years ago, it took over an hour for the first engine and crew to arrive at the fire. Luckily the quick response of the CaL Fire air resources and local residents ground response was able to somewhat control the fire and save houses before the crews arrived. Many lake communities have trained volunteers and local fire trailers to provide first response. Cal Fire can help provide the training.
To help keep the lake area safe and limit the fire hazard the following actions are required by all lake users:
- Small camp fires are allowed only in designated areas and water must be available
- No open fires are allowed on the shore line around the lake
- Drive ALL vehicles on designated roads or cleared space. Do not transit through dry grass
- Keep at least 100 yards (feet) cleared land around all structures. If you do not Cal Fire can issue you a citation
- Clear dead and fallen branches. Trim tress limps up to 6 feet off the ground. Trees getting started by a grass fire is the surest way for the fire to spread and become uncontrolled, especially if there is any wind.
- Burning of trash is not permitted. If you burn debris during the allowed burn season you must have a permit from SLO County APCD and Cal-Fire. The burn season runs December to April most years but may be cut shorter if fire conditions warrant.
- If you respond to help with a fire dress in long pants, hard shoes, long sleeve shirts and a scarf. Bring a shovel or rake to help clear the perimeter of fuel.
- Do not block access with vehicles so that Cal Fire can access
- When Cal Fire arrives get out of the way unless asked to assist. They do not need or want to be worried about the safety of volunteers instead of putting out the fire
- Do not put yourself in danger. If you or your structure are threaten by a fire depart the area by the quickest emergency route. If no other exit, go to the lake water.
IF YOU SEE A FIRE CALL 911. THIS IS THE QUICKEST WAY TO GET ALL RESOURCES TO RESPOND INCLUDING AIR TANKERS
Lake Patrol Presence On The Lake
Over the last two years the Monterey County Parks Department, who provide law enforcement and Quagga Mussel compliance on the lake, have drastically reduced the Lake Ranger staff and other Parks Department employees. The Rangers provide critical support to communities around the lake and to boaters and fisherman.
The staff has been reduced to the point that there is minimal Ranger presence on the lake Monday through Thursday of each week, and only one boat on the lake on the weekends. In order to put a boat on the lake it takes two Rangers. Additionally, they need to have at least one Ranger at the Marina. That is a minimum total of three. Monday thru Thursday there is only one Ranger on duty. While the Rangers report that Quagga mussel inspections at the Marina have not been affected, reports back from boaters say that the inspections are sketchy at best.
SLO County, who used to have a Sheriff’s boat on the lake from Friday through Mon- day, have only had a boat on the lake on the big weekends.
The Rangers and Sheriff are the only law enforcement on the lake. Even when there is more than one Ranger on duty they are “encouraged” to stay at the Marina and only go out if they are called. Over the years, unfortunately, there have been quite a number of deaths on the lake for various reasons from reckless boaters, intoxication, boating accidents and drowning. When there is no law enforcement presence on the lake it becomes a free-for-all. For some people, it might seem great that there is no enforcement, but for the great majority of people who are on the lake it is reassuring to know that in the event of an emergency or catastrophe that there are trained people available to help.
That brings us to the next issue, and that is the time that it takes to train new Rangers. Staff has supposedly been cut because of low lake levels. However, it is no easy task to staff up when the lake level come back up. Because they are law enforcement it takes almost a year from the time Monterey County Park advertises for new Ranger until they can actually be on the lake. The applicants have to go through the interview process, vetting, weapons training, and the Academy before they can perform their duties.
NRWMAC has gone to the Monterey County Board of Supervisors for the last two years to try and get them to reconsider funding but with minimal success.