Era of Uncontrolled Growth Is Ending
at a California Lake
By NICK MADIGAN
COPPEROPOLIS, Calif., April 18 — An early morning mist ambles over the
still surface of Lake Tulloch, as if prodded by an unseen hand.
A flock of mallards takes to the air, gliding in loose formation, while a lone
boatman putters into view.
Memorial Day, as happens every year, such scenes of calm will vanish as hordes
of summer visitors, many with second homes here, descend on Lake Tulloch, a
reservoir created when part of the Stanislaus River was dammed in 1957,
primarily to provide irrigation for San Joaquin Valley farms.
The lake, 120 miles east of San Francisco, is one of the few in California with private
houses on its shores, and therein lies a problem with which residents and local
officials are only beginning to grapple.
In the last few years, with little planning and without a single
environmental impact review, hundreds of houses and piers have been built on
Tulloch, and developers are
eyeing more territory.
"You've got all
these teeny, teeny lots stacked on top of one another," said Daryl Boddiker, a
retired food industry executive from Chicago who, with his wife, Mary Ann, lives in
a house high on a bluff overlooking the lake. "Everyone has a boat or
The land around Lake Tulloch, for decades owned by a handful of
cattle ranchers, has become the staging ground for a battle over public access,
water quality and land-use planning. Safety is an issue because of a rising
number of accidents involving boats and personal watercraft. Then there is the
pressing concern about whether to allow more septic tanks beside a body of water
that, several years ago, was known colloquially as Lake Toilet because of the frequent sewage
"The simple beauty and
simplicity of Lake
Tulloch has been greatly
changed by Bay Area money, but that is what we call progress," said Eva Keyser,
an office manager who first came here to water-ski in 1960. "Usually the one
with the money wins."
But something of
a crackdown has begun. Two weeks ago, the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors
denied a developer's bid to split a 20-acre lakefront property into four lots.
Recently, another developer who wanted to build an 80-slip marina was allowed
only 10 boat slips. On March 21, the Tri-Dam Project, part of the Federal Energy
Regulatory Commission, imposed a 60-day moratorium on pier construction
"This is not antigrowth, it's not
about pulling up the drawbridge," said John E. Cox Jr., a former president of a
homeowners' association who bought a house here seven years ago. "This area has
been a stepchild for years, and it has to stop."
Copperopolis, an old one-strip mining town, lies northwest
of the lake, out of sight beyond the rolling hills. In Angels Camp, another town
nearby, Mark Twain wrote a short story called "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of
Calaveras County," published in 1867 and still invoked each May at the Jumping
These days, residents
like Ed Rich, a former Calaveras County planning commissioner, fear that
piles of mine tailings from the industry's heyday could be leeching into the
lake. A report by the county's Environmental Health Department in March 1996
described a "green sediment" flowing from a copper mine pile, and said it was
composed of manganese, zinc, copper and arsenic. The green suds are still
around, Mr. Rich said.
and in Tuolumne County, which borders Lake Tulloch to the east, are embarking on a
study to determine the best way to protect the lake and manage its
Dale Laughlin, 70, who grew up
on a cattle and hog ranch near here, is slightly bewildered by the area's recent
growth but is resigned to it.
reminisce back to your childhood days, and you don't like to see things change
as much as they do," he said, nursing a beer at the Old Corner Saloon. "But it's
one of those inevitable things; you kind of have to live with it."