Thursday, March 13, 2008

Casitas May Let Some Boats Return

By Daryl Kelley
A week after directors of Lake Casitas closed one of the nation's premier fisheries to outside boats for up to a year, that same board struggled Wednesday with ways to begin letting some boats back into the lake without allowing a potential infestation of a destructive mussel.
The directors seemed to be seriously considering an idea floated by anglers at last week's hearing on closure: Allowing boaters who only fish at Lake Casitas to continue to use the lake, by placing a security lock on their craft so inspectors could see if it had been used anywhere else.
A second proposal to create greater access to the lake during the ban on outside boats was also discussed by the board, which seemed to favor a staff proposal to greatly expand the lake's boat storage area, so local fishermen could leave their boats there for a fee and continue to fish after a 10-day quarantine proves them dry and clean.
“These are some good ideas, quite frankly, from people who use only Lake Casitas,” said Steve Wickstrum, general manager of the Oak View-based Casitas Municipal Water District, which manages the lake. “We'll try to keep our risk at zero and allow recreation to continue for folks who use only Lake Casitas.”
“I'm glad we're moving forward,” said Board President Jim Word.
Before the ban on outside boats, the directors had feared that the pernicious and damaging quagga mussel, discovered in Southern California lakes last year, could hitchhike aboard fishing boats from infected lakes to Lake Casitas, the main water supply for the Ojai Valley and western Ventura. Infestation would cost many millions of dollars to combat, officials estimated, and they said there is no proven way to eradicate the alien mussel. A single female quagga mussel can produce a million offspring a year, resulting in a mass of mussels so dense they clog waterworks and undercut the natural ecosystem, killing fish and other aquatic life.
Casitas directors set a hearing for March 26 to further discuss the mussel issue, and to “tweak” the resolution they approved last week, banning outside boats while still allowing anglers to rent boats at Lake Casitas or to store their craft there for $80 a month if there is space.
On Wednesday, two avid bass fishermen raised the issue of safety locks again, presenting to the board a wide array of materials on tamper-proof locks that could guarantee that boats whose owners swear they use them only at the huge local reservoir don't sneak in a visit elsewhere.
“With this procedure you are guaranteed 100 percent that you will not get the mussels,” said fisherman Larry Elshere of Ojai. “It's impossible. We're all against the mussels.”
Which prompted praise from the board: “This is the kind of cooperation we're looking for,” said Director Pete Kaiser.
Another fisherman, Doug Hanson of Camarillo, proposed that the board also investigate the feasibility of creating a “Lake Casitas Coalition of Clean Lakes,” which would include lakes around the state that have not been infested by mussels.
Those lakes, including nearby Lake Cachuma in Santa Barbara County, could work together by banning boats from their lakes that did not have safety locks or which had been in infested lakes, he said.
The coalition of clean lakes could cooperate fully to ensure that no boat that was not secured could enter any of the clean reservoirs. That would leave lakes open to responsible boaters, Hanson said.
“If you bring this to sister lakes, it's a concept that could go across the state,” he said.
The board seemed intrigued by the idea, or at least a variant of it, possiblity including Lake Cachuma in its safety lock program, if Santa Barbara County supervisors ban outside boats at a hearing set for late this month.
“I'm glad you guys are getting together on this,” said director Russ Baggerly, who spotlighted the quagga threat to Lake Casitas last year.
Baggerly asked Hanson if it wasn't odd that the clean lakes, especially Casitas, have had to lead the campaign against the spread of mussels, while the state Department of Fish and Game has allowed infested lakes to stay open to fishing. “Isn't this backward?” Baggerly asked.
“It is odd,” Hanson agreed.
State officials have said they think mussel spread is not such a threat that it requires the closure of lakes, and that thorough inspection before entry is sufficient..
Baggerly added in an interview: “Lots of potential solutions are coming to the surface now due to the pressure we've put on the state and the boating community (by banning outside boats). People are actually starting to think about this seriously. The pressure finally got their attention.”
In a report to the board, Brian Roney, recreation director at Casitas, said that he and other lake operators spoke with fish and game Fisheries Director Terry Foreman last week about what the state could do to staunch the spread of quaggas, and a sister zebra mussel, discovered recently in Northern California.
Roney said the lake operators agreed that the state should immediately ban all bass tournaments at infected lakes, require infected lakes to decontaminate all departing boats, develop uniform boat inspection protocols and reconsider a boat tracking system so operators would know which boats have visited infested lakes.
The board asked Wickstrum to incorporate Roney's suggestions with others from Baggerly and other directors and send them to the Department of Fish and Game and other agencies that could work together to stop the spread of mussels.
Closer to home, the board dealt with appeals from lake users who thought they'd been caught in a bureaucratic Catch-22 when the lake closed.
Fisherman Tom Hutchinson said he rented a boat slip at Lake Casitas last Wednesday, the day after the ban on outside boats only to find that he was not allowed to bring his boat into the lake to use the slip. Hutchinson noted that the boat ban resolution allowed for such storage after a 10-day quarantine. But Wickstrum said there was some ambiguity in the resolution, and the district's lawyer, John Mathews, said the language needed to be clarified at the March 26 meeting.
Finally, after board members empathized with Hutchinson, Wickstrum relented, allowing the angler to bring his boat to Casitas Thursday morning to begin the quarantine.
The board also heard a request from Walter Stowe of Ventura, who asked to set up a storage facility at the lake for inflatable tubes.
Roney said about 125 tubers use the lake.
“It's one more element we will consider,” said Word.
Director Kaiser said the board had just begun a process to find a solution to the mussel threat, while still providing recreational opportunities.
“This type of innovation is how we're going to succeed,” he said. “The board is going to work the best we can to keep our lake clean and to work with you folks.”
Director Hicks, who voted against the one-year ban to outside boats, favoring a 60-day closure, pressed his colleagues for a set of criteria that, once achieved, would prompt reopening the lake.
“We need to decide what it's going to take,” Hicks said.
Since the quagga mussel threat surfaced last year in San Diego and Riverside counties, the district has been checking boats for water or vegetation that could carry the mussel's microscopic larvae and asking boat operators if their craft have been in infested lakes and excluding those that had.
Casitas directors imposed the boat inspections in mid-November, and officials said 158 of about 2,800 screened boats have been excluded, usually because they still carried water from other lakes.
In a series of recent meetings, dozens of boaters have cited the economic harm of a ban since Casitas is a premier bass fishing lake. District staffers have estimated such a ban would cost the water agency more than $600,000 a year in recreation revenue while also hurting nearby businesses.
At last week's hearing, Elshere said he'd conducted an informal survey of businesses, and found that they would lose about $1.8 million a year.
Repeatedly, fishermen have said there is no evidence that the mussels have been transported by boats in California. State officials say the mussels have infested eight Southern California lakes through a series of aqueducts, not by boats, although the initial infestation in Lake Mead was apparently from a houseboat moved from the Great Lakes area.
Some community members who asked for an immediate ban, cited the billions of dollars agencies have spent in the Great Lakes region since 1988 to combat the invasive zebra mussel, which apparently migrated to the United States aboard freighters from the Ukraine.
Three weeks ago, the Casitas board asked Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to declare a statewide emergency because of the mussel infestation, so California could qualify for federal emergency money to fight it.
One large utility in the East Bay of San Francisco responded by banning any boat from Southern California or outside the state from its reservoirs. That move came in late January after a zebra mussel was discovered near Gilroy in San Benito County, just south of the Bay Area.
It was also the first zebra mussel found in the western United States, officials said.
The quagga mussel's migration northward, after it was discovered at Lake Mead and Lake Havasu 14 months ago, has occurred in the sprawling canal system of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.


Anonymous said...

This new-found atmosphere of cooperation is a lot better than the adversarial approach previously adopted by a few members of the fishing community, especially the ones who kept hinting darkly that the lake just might wind up becoming contaminated with Quagga mussels if the closure took place.

I'd sure like to hear a bit of clarification on the baffling position taken by the California Department of Fish and Game. Why would they possibly want to allow anything that might endanger any of California's water supply as well as the habitat of the fish they're suppose to be protecting?

Rick Raine said...

The boaters have always cooperated. The suggestions that were offered at the meeting are nothing new. In fact, the Quagga mussel threat is nothing new. The information available to everyone on the internet on how to prevent the spread of the mussel has been available for years. Scientists have been sending out warning for over a decade. This is documented in the official reports filed with state. Managers and administrators of the municipalities, all businessmen who's focus is the bottomline, have ignored them, not wanting to interrupt the cash flow.

The fact of the matter is that this board of directors are using this issue to force the state to give them the cash needed for a decomtamination unit, which also has been avaialable for years. The boaters are just the pawns to sacrifice for this end.

If the board is so concerned about the lake becoming infested by fisherman, why aren't they inspecting the fishing equipment? The websites recommend that the rods, reels and tackle be washed and dried, just like the boats. Tackle such as bobbers and floats, easily retain water that could possibly infect the lake. The newspapers have published the pictures of the fishermen sitting on the docks with all their potentially infected equipment. What if their tackle boxes fall into the water?

Going by the Boards thought process, childrens toys can infect the lake. I'm not out on a limb here. Kids love to play in the water, and take their toys with them. Here is a very plausible scenario. Let's say Castaic is infected with the mussel. A family on vacation staying at the campground out by Castaic go to the lower lagoon and the kids do what kids do playing in the water. The family leaves, throw the toys in a palstic container and go to Casitas the next day. The kids play by the water, if not in, with their toys. Unknowingly, they infect the lake.

I have gone through the gate at Casitas and was never asked about my fishing equipment. I was only asked if I had a kayak, canoe or float tube. I was not surveyed to determine if I had fished at any of the known infected lakes. No one wanted to see if my tackle box was clean and dry.

If the current board of directors were on top of things, the would have had a a prevention program in place years ago. All they had to do was listen to those more qualified than they, which would have been the scientific community. I have yet to hear them cite scientific data in any of these meetings. Trying to place the blame on DFG is only their attempt to detract from their own failure to be prepared. They should have gotten off their own fat asses years ago. After all, I'm sure they have plans regarding the possible, but unlikely, act of terrorism. This threat has not been around nearly as long as the Quagga mussel.

After reading much of the information availble on the internet and exchanging emails with one of the scientists leading the effort to prevent the spread of the Quagga mussel, I have come to the conclusion that this threat is being exploited by the Board of Directors in order to fulfill a vision that they have of Lake Casitas that is different that what most people have. I have read some of the minutes of their meetings and found that they are looking for ways to increase the cash flow, such as usage fee increases. They are looking for ways to expand the recreational draw to a more "family friendly" destination, whatever that means. I have also taken great note that the minutes posted on the CMWD website can be highly inaccurate to the point of being a false representation of what took place. I know for a fact that some documentation submitted to them for consideration is not being posted for the public to view. They apparently are picking and choosing what is posted.

Just up the street, Lake Piru just announced that their recreational facilities are being handed over to a nationwide operator. They want to turn it into a 5 star campground. Not long ago, the Board leaned very heavily on the current marina concessionaire, expressing their desire to bring in a different operator. They failed.

I think it's time to start focussing on the actions of the board and less on the boaters.

Anonymous said...

If what you are saying is true, Rick, it's highly disturbing. I would hate to see Casitas turned into another "1000 Trails" and operated to the exclusion of the people who have always appreciated it as the quiet scenic destination it is, fishermen/women included.

I am not and have never been against people who fish in the lake. I think that fishing is a good and sustainable recreational use of the lake, and until I recently heard people making threats to contaminate the lake I had always thought of those who fished at Casitas as stewards of the local environment.
Nonetheless, I am for protecting the water supply and I would be willing to make a lot of sacrifices if I thought that my sacrifices would actually amount to anything. However, if I discover that I have been played by the board in any way I'm going to be as upset as you guys were when you were banned from the lake.

If you can actually document the things that you're saying, you need to talk about it in a publication that has a bit more reach than this blog. Why not contact the OVN and give them the story if you have all of the facts you need to have? Right now you folks have kind of separated yourselves from the herd with some of your statements -- statements that would seem to indicate that you advocate your right to fish over the security of everyone else's drinking water -- but under the right circumstances you might find that you can have all the support you can use, and that some of that support will come from people who don't even want to be seen standing next to you right now.

By the way, if you want to be taken seriously, quit the name calling and the use of terms like "fat asses". Either that, or appoint a more diplomatic ambassador in your stead. This isn't a fight behind the gym in junior high school, and it's not a presidential election. You can display your anger while still showing some class. Not trying to hurt your feelings -- just trying to help you with your PR.

Rick Raine said...

I think in time the true motives of the board will come to light. I stand by what I said. I have the documents which I was referring to as I am the one who submitted them. I have read the minutes of the meeting in which I was heard and they are so far off the mark that I have to wonder if I was in the same meeting. One of the documents submitted has absolutely nothing to do with what was written in the minutes. I noticed that the agenda package that was for that meeting included all the backup documents and submissions to the board, including comics. Noticeably excluded were mine. The minutes posted on the website afterwards also excluded the documents. That's twice.

My statement about the "fat asses" is essentially the same statement as Russ Baggerly. Everyone who was attendance saw and heard him direct that statement to the DFG representative, and his statement has been quoted in all the newspapers. You can argue that he said "fat behinds" (he had to stop first and change to "behinds"), but I think everyone knows what he meant. Rear-end, behind, buttocks, caboose, what's the difference?

As far as the OVN goes, before any of these meetings took place, I walked over to their office because I was having difficulty posting my first use of the blog. Brett was there in the lobby and he asked me what I was article I was wanting to post to and I answered possibility of the lake closing. He immediatley responded by asking me if I was one of those "Pro-quagga mussel boaters." Other than being slightly offended and taken aback by this, it only reinforced my already poor opinion of the OVN's objectivity.

As far as 1000 Trails or KOA is concerned, Lake Casitas will not fall into their hands. However, the operations of the marina and park store is the prize. The current operators were almost forced out once, and it can happen again. So much for keeping chains out of the Ojai Valley.

As both a rate payer to the CMWD and an avid fisherman, my concern for the lake to stay quagga free is two-fold. I live 2 minutes from the lake front gate. I moved here to the Ojai Valley 16 years ago because of the lake.

As far I mentioned before, the Board of Directors is comprised of businessmen. You can read their bio's on the CMWD website. None of them spent their lifetimes dedicated to water or recreational resources. They continually ignore the recomendations set by the scientists who have dedicated themselves for the last 20 years in regard to the prevention of spreading the mussel.

Anonymous said...


You and I probably share more in common than you think, but I won't try to prove it here except to say that you live 2 minutes from the lake and I live 5 minutes from the lake. I buy a annual pass every year, and I'm guessing that you do, too. I loved the old funky snack bar a million times more than I like the new restaurant. It was a great place to go eat breakfast on a drizzly morning while sitting by the wood-burning stove. It goes on, but I think we can agree that we both love the lake.

If you are indeed fighting the good fight, then good luck to you. You have my sincere best wishes. If you ever find yourself trying to defend the lake against certain kinds of inappropriate ventures and developments, I'm pretty sure you'll find me fighting side-by-side with you. That said, I stand by my original assertion that the water supply needs to be valued and protected above any and all recreational privileges, and those privileges include the ones I currently enjoy and, yes, count on.

With regard to the issue of Quagga mussels, it is not the job of the Board to prove that there absolutely is an undeniable theat to the water supply at Lake Casitas; it is the job of all dissenters to prove that there absolutely isn't an undeniable threat. That's how it works when a public water supply is involved, regardless of the opinions of the California Department of Fish and Game. They aren't the ones who are going to have to produce a new source of drinking water for the Ojai Valley and a lot of Ventura & the Rincon if they turn out to be wrong, which I think they are.

If the Board is indeed bent, you're going have to prove it. That's how that works, too. As far as language, if you're not the slightest bit interested in your own public image, then at least don't get into the habit of speaking in ways that won't be allowed in a courtroom, because most judges really don't care what the other guy said unless the other guy's words broke the law. Otherwise, they really don't want to hear who pulled who's hair, poked each other in the shoulder, or stuck their tongues out at each other first.

Anonymous said...

Fat Behind BFD Get a Grip He didnt mean it the way you think . This is a blog for people to comment on about how they feel. He was making fun of what Russ said that night at the meeting. As I am now commenting to you.

Anonymous said...

Get a Grip

Sounds like dsfancy again.

Anonymous said...

You sure have a hardon for dcsfancy. Whats up?

Anonymous said...

You sure have a hardon for dcsfancy. Whats up?

I don't know any dcsfancy.

Anonymous said...

did anyone read in western outdoors news " Won Bass " about the $1.3 million dollar grant it received for public ramp improvements from the Department of boating and waterways? Now that the lake is closed it is no longer considered a public lake. They will have to give the money back.

Anonymous said...

If we are going to be able to continue to use our lakes, maybe we should look at positive answers instead. Everyone is concerned about their next drink of water. As a lifetime fisherman, I want to continue to use the lakes for recreation also. So lets focus on the lock out system that any boater can purchase. You get your inspection and lockout tag, go away for ten days and come back and fish. On your way out purchase another tag so you can come back at anytime since you have already been there. Working with the board members gets us back to our lake and keeps the others open. I do however feel that they should stop tournaments as these guys do travel from lake to lake.

Rick Raine said...

I am not aware of the grant. What issue was this printed in?

I think as rate payers and constinuents of the CMWD, there has to be a message sent back to the board. That message should be that we will not stand for a Machiavellian philosophy. That is exactly what the board is exhibiting in their behaviors. If they allowed to continue down this path, what will the be the next action they take and for what reason?

Anonymous said...

The need to survive will always trump the desire to engage in weekend hobbies.

Anonymous said...

It was in the last issue published. Cachuma also got a grant and are in the processe of upgrading there docks