Let's talk about Almaden Lake

A blog by the Santa Clara Valley Water District to track work and community input

Almaden Lake Project

almaden-lake

In 1982, the city of San Jose opened Almaden Lake as a public park and for some time, offered  activities such as fishing, swimming and pedal boating. With its sandy beach, it became a popular spot for picnics and summer festivals, a gathering place for the community.

But despite its surface beauty, the lake tells a different story below its waters. In pockets of the 32-acre body of water, where depths plunge to more than 35-feet, elemental mercury is methylizing into a toxic form. Waste from Canada Geese and seagulls have rendered it unusable for recreational swimming. And the man-made lake that was once a gravel quarry is actually damaging the ecological structure of the area, serving as a heat barrier to cold-water fish migrating upstream to spawn.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District must act, both from the perspective as an environmental steward of the Guadalupe Watershed to offset impacts to cold-water fish and from a mandate by the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board to control the production and release of methylmercury from Almaden Lake.

As of March 13, the water district’s project team is evaluating four alternatives identified as being feasible to reduce the impacts from mercury containing sediment to water quality and habitat and high water temperatures to cold-water fish. Two of the original six proposed alternatives did not advance; One called for a 100-foot wide restored creek with a 22-acre lake and 5-ace wetland planting area but fell because of concerns that wetlands may increase mosquitoes in a residential area, while the other suggested to keep the lake as is.

13 comments on “Almaden Lake Project

  1. Gary Likhatchov
    August 6, 2013

    Why do put all your attention to Lake Almaden while the highest concentration of mercury in fact is in Guadalupe Reservoir, Almaden Reservoir and Alamitos Creek?

    • wdcommunications
      August 15, 2013

      Good afternoon, Gary. Simply put, Almaden Lake is next on the list of several sites that the water district has targeted for cleanup. In recent years, the district has conducted mercury cleanups on its property sites, such as Jaques Gulch and some stretches of Alamitos Creek. We are currently monitoring the conditions at the Almaden and Guadalupe reservoirs and are conducting pilots to determine whether oxygenation is effective at curbing the methlymercury process.

  2. brummie222
    August 18, 2013

    Proposition 5 would be the best for all concerned.

  3. brummie222
    August 18, 2013

    Sorry I meant proposition 3 would be best.

  4. Lawrence Flammer
    August 22, 2013

    What is being done to keep the geese and seagulls from polluting the lake and grounds?

    • wdcommunications
      August 26, 2013

      Lawrence, the city of San Jose has been addling (goose eggs) the last several years, but it is only allowed to do it during a specified time. It typically starts in the spring when the birds start their nesting and stops sometime in early to mid-summer. Even with the addling, however, we noticed the geese still had babies, which means not all of the nests were found. At this time, the only other thing that the city is doing is using a big sweeper to clean up the goose droppings, though it is looking into various deterrents.

  5. Norma Campbell
    September 4, 2013

    LEAVE THE GEESE AND OTHER ANIMALS ALONE THEY DO NOT LEAVE HALF AS BAD A MESS AS WE HUMANS DO. BIRD AND ANIMALS DO NOT USE PLASTIC ITEMS, IN FACT THEY ARE IN DANGER FROM DISCARDED PLASTIC AND OTHER ITEMS THAT WE ARE TOO LAZY TO EITHER TAKE HOME WITH US OR PUT IN THE REFUSE CONTAINERS. PEOPLE NEED TO CLEAN UP THEIR ACT.

    WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING TO HELP THE FISH COMING UPSTREAM, A SMALLER LAKE AND A FASTER FLOWING CREEK/STREAM WOULD BE GREAT MINUS THE MERCURY OF COURSE.

  6. aa
    September 6, 2013

    Not a single link on the City website for the park mentioning anything about this project? Why? http://www.sanjoseca.gov/index.aspx?NID=2837

  7. Jeff Sauer
    September 6, 2013

    I attended the community meeting on Sep 5th and need clarification of what your Engineers stated. Where exactly in the 2008 Basin Amendment Plan does it say that a change in Lake Almaden needs to be IMPLEMENTED before Dec 2018? On page 12 of the plan, I see the following, and I quote:

    “The goals for the first phase include implementing effective source control measures for mining waste at mine sites; completing studies to reduce discharge of mining waste accumulated in Alamitos Creek; and completing studies of methylmercury and bioaccumulation controls in reservoirs and lakes, by December 31, 2018.”

    This states that implementation of source control at mine sites have to be completed by Dec 2018, and that only STUDIES of controls in our lakes and reservoirs need to be completed by Dec 2018.

  8. Michael Duffy
    January 17, 2014

    Personally, I find it heart-wrenching to see the lake I’ve grown up around, having admired it for all that time, in this way deem it more than a little disconcerting to find it as it is. I can tolerate low water levels due to drought, but a chemical imbalance, such as what I’ve read about, is much less so. I thus appreciate the stances being taken towards a solution. The choice for me on the matter is alternative number six at this point. The added acres could add more room for more stalls and/or concessions for September’s Art & Wine Festival, and that’s assuming little or nothing would be built on those added acres. That would be only a bonus to any improvements in water quality and over all environmental health. An added trail/maintenance road… I like it. As the lake becomes more inviting, more people would likely occupy the already existing narrow trails for routine exercises or, perhaps, social outings. A divergent path would alleviate traffic. An added boat launching zone… Reasons for it are obvious enough so that I needn’t go into detail. An added island spanning an acre, as well as an expansion on a currently existing mass… That’s what I don’t get. Is it to provide some method of isolation for the avian wildlife(the birds)? I’ve seen some gather there. The creek itself… I can’t say I know enough of aquatic life such as fish to make any assessments as to the benefits of separating the lake into zones. On that I’ll keep my faith with those who know, and are able to surmise, what will happen.

  9. Patty
    January 18, 2014

    I too would like to see the larger added park area in Feasible Alternative 6 as there is already high usage of the limited part space currently available, so this would be very valuable to local park users. I would also like to understand the benefit of adding the second larger island.

  10. Dariusz Tomaszewski
    March 31, 2014

    There are very few lakes in the Bay Area in which swimming is allowed which is a disadvantage compared with other areas in the country.
    The closest lake to Almaden Valley where swimming is allowed is about 1 hour drive. It would be great for Almaden community to have a lake close by in which people can swim. The lake has a nice beach. All it needs is a clean water for families to enjoy it.

    • wdcommunications
      April 3, 2014

      Hello, Dariusz and thanks for your question. Both the Santa Clara Valley Water District and the city of San Jose agree that Almaden Lake can no longer support swimming. On Jan. 22, the city officially announced that it could not afford the cost of operating and maintaining a swimming lake at the site.

      The district closely examined a new west lake, with its existing sandy beach, for use as a swimming lake given the correct water treatments. The annual operation and maintenance cost estimates to chemically treat a 5-acre swimming lake are roughly $320,000. The operation and maintenance cost estimates are based on similar systems used in other regional parks in California. The factors that drive the costs are somewhat obvious. First, a swimming lake would have to be more like a swimming pool, except the bottom would be dirt and sand. There would have to be a fresh water source, not Alamitos Creek, and there would have to be a connection to the sewer system. Absent flowing water, circulation pumps would be required, as well as filtration and chlorination. Unlike our neighborhood pools, this body of water would be popular with both native and migratory Canada geese, with ducks and with seagulls.

      The district met with city staff from the Parks and Recreation and Councilman Khamis office to discuss the city’s position on maintaining a swimming lake. After careful examination, the city noted it cannot afford the cost of operating and maintaining a swimming lake. Additionally noted was that the cost figure of $300,000 does not include park staff time, such as swimming life guards, nor the required liability insurance.

      I hope this information helps. If you have more questions, please join us at the next public meeting on April 9 at Castillero Middle School.

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