Lake Hodges Dam repairs complete; some recreation to reopen by summer

The structure’s condition remains unsatisfactory, however


Lake Hodges Dam is shown in an aerial view taken on Feb. 2, 2022. (Photo by Autumn Sky Photography, iStock Getty Images)

Patrick Doyle

Repairs to Lake Hodges Dam were completed this May after a yearlong effort to reverse some of the deterioration of the 105-year-old structure.

In a statement, the city of San Diego told the North Coast Current that repairs on the dam’s upstream face were completed May 5. This comes after the condition of Lake Hodges Dam was downgraded from “poor” to “unsatisfactory” in March.

The city stated that while repairs are complete, the state Division of Safety of Dams has not yet indicated the condition will be upgraded. The city estimates that limited recreational activities such as shore fishing and rental boat fishing will reopen in early summer.

San Diego Public Utilities Director Juan Guerreiro said safety is still the city’s primary concern.

“The 280-foot elevation restriction that it’s currently under will stay in place until the dam is completely replaced,” Guerreiro said in an interview. “Our biggest concern and priority is public safety. We don’t want to allow activities until we know the recreational users will be safe.”

The city is still evaluating options for expanding recreational activities despite the reduced water level in the reservoir. Officials said water quality concerns continue to push back plans to fully reopen the reservoir to water contact activities.

Lake Hodges Reservoir will not see its water level fully restored until a replacement dam is built. The city estimates a replacement could cost around $300 million, and take about 12 years to complete. Guerreiro said the mayor’s office is attempting to secure funding from President Joe Biden’s 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to assist in building a replacement dam.

San Diego currently controls nine reservoirs across the county. Lake Hodges Reservoir has historically been used for drinking water and irrigation. However, due to its age and reduced water capacity, it is less critical to the city’s supply of potable drinking water than the other reservoirs. When asked if Lake Hodges could instead be completely drained and abandoned, Guerreiro said that was not an option the city was pursuing.

“If the dam was drained completely and it was left in place, the impact to the city appears to be minimal,” Guerreiro said. “The reservoir is a valuable asset to the city and the regional water system as part of an emergency storage project … It also provides a flood control benefit.”

Several local environmental groups are also in favor of constructing a new dam, assuming the cost estimates and environmental impacts are within reason. San Diego Coastkeeper Executive Director Phillip Musegaas says he would be on board with replacing the dam if climate impacts are adequately considered.

“Lake Hodges Dam is kind of a critical piece of the regional water quality supply, both for drinking water and for irrigation,” Musegaas said. “Maintaining and replacing the dam is very important when it comes to ensuring a sustainable water supply in this region.”

In a statement to the North Coast Current, the San Diego Chapter of the California Native Plant Society said it hopes the city will “work out a good solution that balances environmental protection and future water resource security in the region.”

As the city evaluates its options for the future of Lake Hodges, Guerreiro says the reservoir is an important part of San Diego’s culture.

“We see it as a rich part of our history and there’s a lot of valuable benefits that come from having the reservoir in place,” Guerreiro said. “And our goal is to maintain all of those benefits.”

In the meantime, the city emphasizes that Lake Hodges Dam does not pose any imminent threat to the public.

Patrick Doyle is a local freelance writer.