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Big Bear Lake (Photo: visitcalifornia)

Big Bear Lake Water Levels Reach Highest Levels Since 2012

Lake rise is on pace to top out for the first time since 2010 later this year.

By Evan Symon, June 8, 2024 2:45 am

New data released from the Big Bear Municipal Water District found that the lake is currently at it’s most full since 2012, and is only 4 feet shy of becoming full for the first time since 2010.

Only two years ago, the state was facing a record-breaking drought. With a lack of rain falling and local urban and agricultural centers demanding more water after aquifer levels began dropping with over usage, reservoirs such as Lake Shasta and Lake Oroville began to see record lows. Pumping limits were implemented, many farms were cut off, and many reduction targets were put into place. Near the end of 2022, with the state under drought conditions, many scientists predicted that the drought would last years.

Then a wave of major storms hit the state in January and March of 2023. Reservoir and snowpack levels quickly grew, with reservoirs filling back up and snowpack levels going to over 250% of where they needed to be for the state to have adequate summer water. Last year, on the critical April 1st date, snowpack levels were measured at 237% with reservoirs being found to be near full brim, staving off drought conditions for 2023. For the first time since 2006, all water requests would be filled by the DWR. In November, the state became drought free for the first time since 2020. However, scientists again warned that this was a fluke year.

However, it was anything but. Many storms came again in the first three months of the year. By March, Lake Shasta was so full that water had to be pumped out of it. In April, state snowpack levels were found to be at 113%, officially meaning that California would have more than enough water yet again. And last month, Lake Oroville reached full capacity. But, down in Southern California, where water tends to be a little harder to corral, water was slowly bouncing back in many areas as well.

Against all odds, it was announced on Friday that Big Bear Lake, one of SoCal’s top tourist destinations in San Bernadino County, had reached 68 feet, the highest it has been since 2012. Only 6 years ago in 2018 the Lake had reached it’s all-time low of 54 feet, with many water experts predicting even more drops because of upcoming droughts.

But, as noted, the droughts never came in 2023 and 2024. Big Bear bounced back up quickly thanks to the amount of meltwater coming in. It is now expected that the lake is to gain another 4 feet and return to full capacity of 72 feet. Big Bear Lake has not seen full capacity since 2010.

SoCal water levels increase

“It’s magical, because the lake is so pretty, and it’s so blue. We have a lot of native plants that are coming back, which we haven’t seen because it had been so dry,” explained Big Bear Municipal Water District interim general manager Brittany Lamson. “In 2018, we were down by 18-and-a-half feet, which was very sad. We had a lot of beachfront property at that point, because there was so much shoreline exposed.

“I credit back-to-back wet winters with replenishing the lake, which gained 11 feet of elevation last winter and then another 4.5 feet this winter, totaling nearly 15 feet of lake level added in just two winters.”

The high water levels are also expected to bring more tourists, as both boat launches are now officially opened again for the first time in years, and a larger lake volume means more room for recreation activities.

“For as much trouble the state is in through homelessness and people paying millions for houses and all these businesses closing, California is bouncing back great when it comes to water and natural things,” explained Jack Wesley, a water systems consultant for farms and multi-family homes, to the Globe on Friday. “Me and other consultants are being brought out to rural areas to help make sure things are in line for the tourist season. Big Bear is the big one, but a lot of lakes and other water dependent tourist areas are preparing more and more for a big influx. And that’s just south of Visalia. Up north, places like Tahoe and expecting more as well.

“As always, we need to keep an eye on the water and continue to check water levels and continue to be ready for droughts in the future. This is California. But we are going to be okay for awhile. Lake Oroville topping off and Big Bear about to top off are extremely encouraging. This is something Californians can feel good about. Especially when many other areas of the country, like Texas for example, are facing big water issues and drought. But California prepared, got lucky a few years, and here we are. Oh, and in case you were worried, the state won’t be draining Big Bear like it does for some reservoirs.”

More water level reports for lakes and reservoirs across the state are due to be released by the end of the month.

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Evan Symon
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3 thoughts on “Big Bear Lake Water Levels Reach Highest Levels Since 2012

  1. Get your facts straight, Evan. Shasta Dam has never pumped out excess water. There are no pumps for that. Fact is, the dam is equipped with a number of 15ft wide tubes to bleed off excess water. No pumps, just valves that open to let water out. But the real excitement happens when the damn is close to full and big storms are imminent. The three massive spillway gates (330ft – wider than a football field!) are opened at the top of the damn to release excess water (no pumps). It is a sight to behold – like a mini Niagra Falls. On average, they only need to be opened every 10-20 years, so rarely, but definitely not unprecedented…

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