Flash: OFF This site is designed for use with Macromedia Flash Player. Click here to install.   March 30, 2023 
Archieve News Coverage (96-2005)

  Welcome to News Coverage of Lake Tulloch

Click Here for News Archive including coverage from:

New York Times

Modesto Bee Archive

Sonora Union Democrat

Calaveras Enterprise 


Recent Coverage in Area Papers:

Modesto Bee

Residents fear Tulloch Lake is at critical mass


TULLOCH LAKE — Like most Labor Day weekends, law enforcement, lakeside residents and those responsible for marine recreation here have their safety fingers crossed.

"(Tulloch Lake) is the smallest lake in Calaveras County and also the most congested," Calaveras County sheriff's Capt. Clay Hawkins said. "That means the potential for accidents is just that much greater."

On summer weekends, as many as 200 boats and rooster-tailing jet skis roar past one another in a blizzard of white wakes, shiny fiberglass and wave-skipping water skiers on this two-square-mile gem on the Stanislaus River between Highway 108 and Copperopolis.

X-shaped because of topography, Tulloch Lake has 1,260 surface acres, some of it in shallow arms that constrict recreational use.

By contrast, New Melones Reservoir, just upstream, provides 12,500 surface acres for boating and other water-based activities.

150 boats per square mile

Hawkins said midsummer survey flights have counted, for example, 34 boats per square mile on Camanche Reservoir, 39 per square mile on New Hogan Reservoir and 36 per square mile on New Melones Reservoir. At Tulloch Lake, they've counted as many as 150 boats per square mile.

"The more boats you got crammed together, the more potential there is for an accident," Hawkins said. "Last year we had no accidents, this year we have had three."

Some congestion is historical, as Tulloch Lake quickly became a water-ski mecca after the dam was built in 1958. Its popularity was enhanced by a building boom that began with the development of Copper Cove in 1969.

The construction of more than a half-dozen housing developments, as well as commercial projects, continues today, with more in the planning stages.

Boating activity upsets anglers

Critics say development will reduce the usable surface of the lake because its design includes building over the water and adding dock space.

"With all of this new development, it only means more boats on the water," said Connie Williams, president of the Conner Estates Master Association and co-chair of the Lake Tulloch Alliance.

The alliance, made up of homeowners and others, would like to see more control over development and protection of the lake's 55-mile shoreline, particularly on the Calaveras side where building restrictions are less stringent than neighboring Tuolumne County, Williams said.

"The concern," she said, "is the effect of more boats on the water. We have a beautiful lake with lots of recreation and we want to make sure it's safe. A lot of people moved here because of its beauty, and we want to keep it that way."

The heavy boat use, generally on weekends, limits fishing because the noise drives fish into deep water, making them reluctant to bite.

Effect on water is unclear

Ski boats also interfere with fishermen who are anchored, drifting or slow trolling.

Although it is unclear what environmental effect this has on the lake's water quality, the Tulloch Lake Association has called for preserving its natural shoreline, including a development buffer and the cessation of permits for seawalls or erosion protection devices that do not protect that shoreline.

Jim Hackbarth, president of the Black Jack Bluffs homeowners association on the Tuolumne County side of the lake, said new projects should have larger lots to reduce the number of homes.

"Say, if we have 2,000 homes and we see 200 boats on a busy day, then if you put in 4,000 homes, how much more pressure is that? When does it stop?" he asked.

Hackbarth, who said he has two sailboats and a pontoon boat, added, "It gets so I don't go out on the lake on holidays anymore."

The Tri-Dam Project, which regulates dock space on the lake, says there are 329 docks in front of single-family homes, often with two boats attached, and 316 slips, which are common with planned housing developments.

Steve Felte, general manager of the Tri-Dam Project, said a recent relicensing study found the lake's boating capacity to be about 125 vessels.

Little authority over public

He said part of the problem is that Tulloch Lake, unlike New Melones, Camanche or Don Pedro reservoir, has intensive private development on its shores.

Felte, a member of a Tulloch Lake task force studying planning and congestion, said part of the licensing obligation is to provide safe activities for private and public users.

"We want to encourage public access of the lake," he said, "but where is the happy medium between private use, safety and public access? We can regulate docks, but we have no real authority to regulate the public."

The lake has two public boat-launching facilities, one at Tulloch Lake Resort on the north end, the other at South Lake Tulloch R.V. Campground and Marina on the south shore.

Are more rules inevitable?

Launching fees at Tulloch Lake Resort are $10 to $25 depending on the day, and $6 at the South Lake Tulloch facility.

The south lake campground and marina are on California Department of Fish and Game land leased to Tuolumne County, which leases it to a concessionaire.

If some way isn't found to moderate the boat traffic, Felte said, more regulations are inevitable.

"We're all talking," he said. "It's been real slow, but we're progressing."

Bee staff writer George Snyder can be reached at 536-9005 or


Stockton Record

Tulloch dwellers unite to protect lifestyle

By Francis P. Garland
Lode Bureau Chief
Published Monday, March 21, 2005

Stockton Record

COPPEROPOLIS -- For a relatively small lake, Tulloch Reservoir fills several huge roles for folks like Connie Williams.

The lake supplies drinking water for Williams and other residents in the growing Copperopolis basin, and it affords boaters and water skiers a handy playground.

It also provides a most attractive backdrop for scores of homes, some of which are fetching prices in the high six figures these days.

But as growth pressures continue to trigger more development, some fear the lake's special qualities will diminish -- and their lifestyles will follow suit.

That's why Williams and others have united to form a group to protect water quality, recreation opportunities and property values in the Tulloch area.

The new Lake Tulloch Alliance will include representatives from six major homeowners associations that face similar growth-related issues -- namely, how to allow development to continue without compromising the lake.

Those involved in forming the alliance stress they're not out to stop growth.

"No one is against more building. That's the furthest thing from everyone's mind," said Williams, who moved to Conner Estates nearly three years ago from Atlanta and now serves as president of its homeowners group

"But we as a community are interested in making sure that we have smart development and that developers plan correctly, using the land resources they've purchased in a way that complements the area and doesn't take away from the area."

Williams and others involved with the alliance say that while growth is inevitable -- the proof is in the form of proposed new developments like the 2,100-home Brunker Ranch -- the community must recognize that the lake is a finite resource.

Irresponsible growth, they say, will damage the ecology, property values, recreation opportunities -- indeed the entire lakeside lifestyle.

"Obviously, there's going to be growth," said Betsy Duncan, an area resident who attended the alliance's first meeting and intends to go back for more. "That's a good thing -- I'm a real estate agent. But we want to protect the integrity of the community and preserve the lake."

Carol Murphy, whose Stockton company manages the six homeowners associations, said it makes sense for the groups to come together and pursue common goals, such as increasing boating safety on the lake and protecting water quality.

"We want to make sure we have some protections in place so everyone can enjoy the lake -- and not just now," she said.

Residents and Tri Dam, a partnership that operates the lake for the Oakdale and South San Joaquin irrigation districts, are concerned that as the lake grows, there will be more and more boating traffic -- and that could pose public safety and water-quality problems.

"Tri Dam already is saying the lake is overcrowded on certain weekends and during the holidays," said Yvette Villeneuve-Ezell, president of the Copper Cove at Lake Tulloch Owners Association. "If we have all these huge developments going up around it, it's only going to tax the lake even more.

"We have to look at things from the standpoint of healthful growth. There has to be some kind of control over the development that's being planned around the lake."

Tri Dam officials have endorsed the alliance concept. Steve Felte, Tri Dam's general manager, said the federal government wants Tri Dam to work more closely with local interests on issues pertaining to the lake, and the alliance could fill that role.

While many are supportive of the alliance, some with another group that has been working to map Copperopolis growth in the form of a community plan, a sort of mini-general plan for the area, are skeptical. Russ Thomas, chairman of the Community Plan committee, said he's not sure the Lake Tulloch Alliance is needed right now.

"We've got enough groups trying to pull in one direction, and now this alliance comes along, and we don't know what their motivations are," he said.

Thomas said he fears the alliance arose from those who are unhappy with the shape the proposed community plan is taking. If the plan allows more development in a certain area, he said, that could mean more boats on the water, "and they're just deathly afraid that will adversely affect them."

"They've got their boats and don't want anyone else to have any."

Even some groups that have vowed to join the alliance are concerned that some members could have a hidden agenda.

"But it would be wrong to be unduly critical of the unknown," said Mike Gamerl, president of the Poker Flat Property Owners Association. "Just as one would like to see objectivity within (the alliance), certainly people standing by have to be objective and see what materializes."

Jack Cox, who lives near the lake and has been involved in numerous issues there over the years, said Thomas' depiction of those involved in the alliance is wrong.

"The alliance is trying to be a positive voice, not the homeowners associations trying to pull up the drawbridge," Cox said.

Williams said the group hopes to act as an advisory voice to Calaveras County Supervisor Victoria Erickson, who represents Copperopolis.

"Instead of 16 people calling her and giving her 16 different things, we can go as a group and bring her information that we feel is important for the growth and the care and the feeding of the Copperopolis community," Williams said.

For information on the alliance, contact Williams at (209) 785-5080.

* To reach Lode Bureau Chief
Francis P. Garland, phone
(209) 736-9554 or e-mail

Modesto Bee
Sketchy details provided on Tulloch

Copperopolis hits snag introducing long-awaited housing growth plan


Last Updated: May 9, 2005, 05:53:20 AM PDT

COPPEROPOLIS — The fastest-growing area in one of California's fastest-growing counties is doing so without a growth plan. Thirteen years ago, people responding to a survey in this foothill town named managing growth as their top priority. The idea of a growth plan went through fits and starts before officials formed a committee in 1998.

In more than six years since, several hundred homes have sprung up around nearby Lake Tulloch, all without a growth plan and without a single environmental report. And officials have approved 4,000 more.

The surge helped boost Calaveras County to fourth-highest in the state in terms of percentage growth from 2000 to 2004, at 13.3 percent.

Thursday, committee Chairman Russ Thomas — a former Stanislaus County planning commissioner — announced at a meeting that he hoped that day to conclude work on the elusive growth plan. That proved to be wishful thinking.

One of three people attending their first meeting as committee members wanted more time to digest what the committee had been doing for six years. The newcomers were appointed because former members have financial stakes in the committee's proposals.

Meanwhile, Robert Sellman, Calaveras County interim planning director, refused Thursday to provide public copies of materials the committee was using — even after audience members asked that he comply with state law requiring that he share them.

After 2½ hours of trying to follow the committee's discussion with no reference point, a portion of the meeting reserved for public comment was cut short because another group had reserved the meeting hall.

Difficulties in Copperopolis point up just how hard it can be — anywhere — to reach consensus on growth.

In comments unrelated to Copperopolis, Stanislaus County Supervisor Jeff Grover said, "I think everyone agrees that the way we've been doing growth is not good." He recently embarked on a mission that could dramatically alter development patterns by setting rigid urban limits around the nine cities in his county.

All cities by law have some blueprint for growth. Many unincorporated towns develop similar documents called community plans, like the one Copperopolis may be close to getting.

Chairman Thomas and others blame their 13-year wait on turnover in the county Planning Department, which advises the committee.

"It's seemed very much like we take three steps forward and two back," Thomas said in a recent interview.

A growth plan might have saved some headaches around picturesque Lake Tulloch, whose water-skiing, jet-skiing and fishing have drawn valley folks since the reservoir was created in 1958. Though some of the shoreline lies in Tuolumne County, Calaveras is home to most of the houses and potential growth areas.

"I think we could have done better," said Victoria Erickson, the Calaveras County supervisor representing that area, who was elected in 2002. "Instead of planning section by section, we could have looked at the whole lake."

Didn't expect banks of houses

Ralph Servidio, a Realtor and former owner of the biggest grocery store in Copperopolis, said most buildings around the lake when he arrived in 1991 were A-frame cabins or little more than sheds.

"I don't think anyone envisioned this," Servidio said, referring to a bank of multilevel homes resembling a cityscape except for docks on the waterfront.

Order seemed to arrive, Servidio said, with Castle and Cooke Inc., a multinational company that bought nearby Saddle Creek Golf Course in 1999 and is building houses in the area. Some people, though, fear that the firm's plan to bring 2,110 more homes, plus two marinas and a hotel to a barren stretch of the northwest shore would wreck the lake's recreational appeal.

Many remember when water skiers could glide on the lake's northern reaches, where a steep hill protects the surface from prevailing breezes. Speed restrictions now limit travel to 5 mph along much of that stretch, mostly because the lake is crowded with boats in the summer.

Still others are less than crazy about the idea of a new road from Castle and Cooke's project, known as Brunker Ranch, through Knights Ferry to Highway 108-120.

Though the road appears in concept on a 2001 study Thomas' group commissioned, he recently said that publicity on the idea has been blown out of proportion.

"There is nothing to suggest anyone is anxious to develop that," he said. "But, it makes good sense to have it started now because it could likely be an eventual build-out element."

Thomas also blamed news reports for creating pressure that caused three committee members to resign.

One, Bob Brunker, is selling the property that Castle and Cooke wants for its huge project. The wife of another is brokering the sale. A third owns property where developers want to build stores near Copperopolis.

The committee recommends zoning for land throughout the growth plan, among other duties. In other words, all three might have profited from the committee's decisions.

None ever voted on committee work dealing with areas where they owned property, Thomas said.

While that controversy brewed, some homeowners around the lake formed a group whose mission includes checking the committee's work.

Lake Tulloch Alliance Chairwoman Connie Williams said her group brings together representatives from each of the six homeowner associations ringing the lake. They will publicly praise or criticize policies Thomas' committee recommends, she said.

"This area is getting ready to really burst with development," Williams said. "The right controls weren't put in place to begin with. How many more homes can we handle before the whole lake becomes a 5 mph zone?

"If we don't look into this," she continued, "20 years from now the land will be totally raped by developers who do whatever they want."

Supervisor Erickson said she expects the alliance "will end up being very helpful to me."

Media blamed

But Thomas again blamed media for stirring conflict resulting in the group's formation.

"It was a knee-jerk reaction in many ways to those articles," he said. Of the alliance, Thomas said its members "would just as soon that no other houses be built on the lake. They have theirs and can't see any justification for building more."

Thomas confirmed that he plans to challenge Erickson in next year's election.

Sellman, the interim planning director, refused Thursday to release public documents despite pleas from audience members such as Bob Miller and Susan Larson. He said letting people follow the committee's discussion — an impossible task without the documents — would foster controversy, and some committee members agreed.

"We can't make intelligent comments because we don't have the documents," Copperopolis resident Betsy Duncan protested.

After checking with the county's attorney Friday, Sellman reversed course and put the documents on the Internet.

A working version of the Copperopolis Community Plan and several supporting documents can be viewed at http://ccwstor.co.calaveras.ca.us/publish/planning/CopperCommunity/coppercommunity_1.html. The Copperopolis Community Plan Committee is scheduled to meet at 2:30 p.m. May 26 in the meeting hall at Black Creek Park.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at 578-2390 or gstapley@modbee.com.

Sonora Union Democrat
Boat fees for Tulloch suggested

Published: July 28, 2005

A group working to protect Lake Tulloch from over-development is suggesting charging boating fees on the seven-mile long reservoir.

Lake Tulloch Alliance — which includes homeowners, business owners and homeowner associations along Tulloch's shores — has presented six proposals, including the boat fee idea, to District 5 Calaveras County Supervisor Victoria Erickson.

The alliance meets this afternoon to hear her response.

"We'll hear from Supervisor Erickson as to our next step to get our initiatives to the Board of Supervisors," alliance President Connie Williams said.

The alliance is requesting a yearly fee be charged for all boats launched or moored on the lake near Copperopolis.

Williams said it would be up to supervisors, law enforcement and Tri-Dam Project, which manages the lake, to work out specific details of such a fee. She added that alliance members hope funds raised by the fee would go for boating safety education and more law enforcement patrols on the waters.

Erickson said imposing such a fee is complicated, because the lake spans both Calaveras and Tuolumne counties.

"Making each boat pay a yearly fee to use the lake is one way of dealing with the situation," she said. "It is one tool in the tool box, but it won't solve all the problems."

Problems on the 1,260-acre reservoir are significant.

According to a 2003 Calaveras County Sheriff's Department safety report, Tulloch has among the highest rates of boating accidents, boating injuries and fatalities, and boats per square mile compared to other lakes in the county.

Tri-Dam Project manages Tulloch under a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Susan Larson, Tri-Dam Project Lake Tulloch coordinator, said Tri-Dam officials have studied Bass Lake in Madera County, which charges a fee based on watercraft engine size, as a possible model.

"It is something to be considered," she said, pointing out that Bass and Tulloch lakes share some similarities, including private homes and public marinas along the lakes' shores.

"At Bass Lake, the fee supports boating safety programs, boating classes and enhanced law enforcement," she said. "The fee has been successful and popular."

Larson said Tri-Dam and Erickson are working with Tuolumne and Calaveras counties' sheriffs departments and boards of supervisors to see if a fee would make sense for Lake Tulloch.

"But before we moved forward with such a program, we'd hold public meetings where people could ask questions and make suggestions," she said.

Williams emphasized that the alliance is not against growth, but wants to preserve and protect Lake Tulloch and its surrounding shoreline.

"Lake Tulloch is the jewel of Copperopolis," she said. "That's what draws people and developers here. We don't want to stop growth, but we want the county to implement the proper ordinances so that future generations can continue to enjoy this beautiful lake and area."

Copyright 2023 Lake Tulloch Alliance. All Rights Reserved.