Visitors to Lake Los Carneros in Goleta are being treated to a sight not seen in more than a decade — the reservoir is full and spilling a small amount of water into its overflow pipe.
The last time the 25-acre impoundment was at capacity was during the 2011-12 winter season, according to the city of Goleta.
The lake level reached an engineered overflow pipe on Tuesday.
The series of powerful storms that have doused Santa Barbara County since the beginning of the year have pushed the lake level up to the point where water is covering the lower pathway along the cement dam on the south side.
City parks staff said they are monitoring water levels and keeping the overflow pipe clear of debris.
Additionally, there is a controlled release of water to downstream wetlands to lower the lake level below the popular walking path at the southern edge of the lake.
City staff are aiming to keep the lake as full as possible heading into the summer.
“Migratory birds, aquatic invertebrates, fish, and other wildlife benefit from this treasured wetland,” said George Thomson, Goleta’s parks and open space manger. “Wetland habitats at Lake Los Carneros depend on winter rains, and the prolonged drought was taking its toll on wildlife that don’t fare as well when water levels are low.
“It is great to see Lake Los Carneros at maximum capacity once again.”
The lake started out as a small natural wetland. But in 1873, Sherman Stow constructed a 6-foot-tall, earth-filled dam that doubled the storage capacity, according to the website lakeloscarneros.com.
In 1932, Stow’s son Edgar increased the height of the dam to 19 feet, and built the concrete portion of the structure.
Over the years, the dam was raised further, and today the lake level, when full, stands at 48 feet above sea level.
The reservoir is the centerpiece of the 136-acre Lake Los Carneros Recreation Area, which provides a variety of passive recreation options, including hiking, dog walking, birdwatching, wildlife viewing, and general relaxation.
The historic Goleta Depot and Stow House are nearby, where visitors can learn more about Goleta Valley history.
Lake Los Carneros can be reached on foot from La Patera Lane on the east or the Stow House entrance off Los Carneros Road on the west.
Visitors are reminded that dogs are required to be on leash at all times, and feeding wildlife is strongly discouraged.
People can learn more about the wildlife that call the lake home by viewing “The Birds of Lake Los Carneros,” a short documentary film made by Michael Love and Elliot Lowndes for the Santa Barbara Audubon Society: https://tinyurl.com/ynuc8atp.