Lake Arrowhead Water Level.

Lake Arrowhead Filled to "Overflowing" in Back to Back Years!

Sometime during the week of March 5, 2006, in back-to-back years (2005 and 2006), Lake Arrowhead will become full and will again overflow. This back-to-back overflow is somewhat unusual!

The last time it happened was 23 years ago in the years 1982 and 1983. This was an El Nino period. In calendar year 1982 there were 60.13 inches of precipitation, and in 1983, 74.14 inches of precipitation. The average precipitation during the two-year period was 67.14 inches.

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A Full Lake (The Mountain News)
BY RALPH WAGNER

Sometime during the week of March 5, 2006, in back-to-back years (2005 and 2006), Lake Arrowhead will become full and will again overflow. This back-to-back overflow is somewhat unusual!

The last time it happened was 23 years ago in the years 1982 and 1983. This was an El Nino period. In calendar year 1982 there were 60.13 inches of precipitation, and in 1983, 74.14 inches of precipitation. The average precipitation during the two-year period was 67.14 inches.

Over the 113-year period of record keeping at Lake Arrowhead, the average annual precipitation has been 38.77 inches, so it really wasn't too unusual for the lake to become full in 1982 and 1983! This is especially true when you realize the amount of water extracted for water supply in Arrowhead Woods in 1982 was only 1726 acre-feet, and 1814 acre-feet in 1983. In contrast, in calendar year 2005, conservative water supply extractions amounted to 2119 acre feet. No wonder the lake refilled in both 1982 and 1983!

Prior to that, the lake overflowed in the war years of 1941, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945 and 1946! During that very unusual six-year period, the annual precipitation ranged from a low of about 51 inches to a high of almost 70 inches, with the average being 58.71 inches per year.

Water supply extractions ranged from a low of only 160 acre-feet per year in 1943 to a high of 252 acre-feet per year in 1942, with an average of only 208 acre-feet during that six-year period! No wonder the lake overflowed in each of those years!

The only other times the lake has overflowed in back-to-back years was in 1938 and 1939. The year 1938 was an El Nino year (although we knew nothing about either El Nino or La Nina at the time) with precipitation of about 85 inches in the year. During that year, water supply took out only 141 acre-feet, or about 6.6 percent of what is taken out now!

In the following year of 1939, which was not an El Nino year, only 36 inches of precipitation fell in the Lake Arrowhead area (about 93 percent of the 113-year average), and water supply extractions amounted to only 129 acre-feet during the year. But those numbers were such that the lake could still overflow following an El Nino year. It appears that El Nino years rarely, if ever, occur back-to-back.

It is interesting to look at what happened in 1969. That was the biggest El Nino year of all on record, when 98.54 inches of precipitation occurred in the Lake Arrowhead area, and the lake overflowed big time. During that year, 551 acre-feet of water was extracted from the lake. In the following year, 1970, only 34.7 inches of precipitation occurred (89.5 percent of average), and the lake did not refill and overflow even though only 594 acre-feet of water was withdrawn for water supply in Arrowhead Woods.

We should look at a couple of other, more recent events when the lake filled and overflowed. In 1992, we received about 57 inches of precipitation in the Lake Arrowhead area, but the lake did not overflow. Water supply withdrawals were about 2117 acre-feet. In the following year, 1993, about 75.5 inches of precipitation fell, 2222 acre-feet of water was withdrawn, and the lake filled and overflowed.

Five years later, in 1998, after receiving about 64.5 inches of precipitation, the lake once again refilled and overflowed, in spite of about 2425 acre-feet having been removed for water supply. Then, in 1999, only 14.2 inches of precipitation occurred, 2685 acre-feet of water was withdrawn to supply Arrowhead woods with domestic water, and the lake consequently did not refill.

That started the long drought during which time the level of the lake fell 21 feet 3 inches below spillway, until it refilled again on February 21, 2005, after we received about 84 inches of precipitation. That was probably an anomaly rather than an El Nino year, but here we are full again in March 2006, after having received only about 60 percent of average precipitation to date. This watershed at times acts in unpredictable ways, but water conservation certainly helps lake level in its response!

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