Residents fear Tulloch Lake
is at critical mass
By GEORGE SNYDER
BEE STAFF WRITER
September 5, 2005
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
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
The construction of more than a half-dozen housing
developments, as well as commercial projects, continues today, with more in the
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
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
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
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
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 email@example.com.
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