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Hey Matt:

When I lived in Northern California there was never a problem with people swimming in the lakes and reservoirs, but down here I find that it's illegal to swim in our lakes and reservoirs. What gives? Is my hairy body worse than motor oil from a jet ski or motorboat?

-- Hot Paul, the net

Mattster:

As I crawl through Escondido on my commute on 15, I always wonder what's going to happen to all those trees and bushes that have grown up in what used to be Lake Hodges. Some day, I assume, the lake will be full again and all those trees will die. What a mess!

-- Creeping Charlie, stuck in traffic

The bigger mess is paddling upstream against the flow of all the state, county, local, and district committees, departments, authorities, and bureaus that have a hand in our water. California's biggest industries-- agriculture and tourism? Phooey. Water and the lottery. Anyway, we checked in with the county water authority to find out about the marshy wetland that is now Lake Hodges. With or without more rain, the lake's level will rise and will stay risen when the new reservoir on Mt. Israel/Elfin Forest is filled, since the dam will feed the lake. (Oddly enough, lake water will also be pumped uphill to feed the reservoir occasionally.) But before the lake is refilled, all that greenery that you see from 15 will be cut so the place doesn't turn into a big mucky bowl of decomposing ooze. If everything goes as planned, the lake will stay filled and none of that shrubbery will come back.

As if decomposing ooze wasn't bad enough, when Hot Paul's hairy body lands in a lake along with a lot of other hairy bodies, the water then needs to be specially treated to remove human-borne pathogens, e. coli most notably, if it is destined to be tap water rather than agricultural water. Much more 'spensive to deliver to our homes than no-swimming-allowed water, which just requires basic treatment. Each county has some input on whether a reservoir is licensed for swimming, since they have to pay the treatment tab. The state Department of Water Resources suggests that Northern California has more natural lakes for swimming (even if water from those lakes at some point ends up in a reservoir), and the economics of water up north may make county water officials more inclined to let you dive in.

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