North Lake Repair Delays Cause Costs to Balloon
By Carol Dimmick
Ten years after voters approved a $76 million bond measure to restore
Golden Gate Park to its former glory, work has finally gotten underway
to rehabilitate North Lake, but the delay has proven costly.
In fact, it will cost taxpayers triple what a report by the SF Department
of Public Works estimated it would cost to fix the problems in 1994.
According to the report, which studied 12 bodies of water in Golden
Gate Park as part of a Master Plan for a 1992 bond measure, it would
take $1.4 million to restore the lake. Today the same project will cost
the City just more than $4 million.
North Lake is the first lake to undergo the breadth of restoration
recommended in the 1994 report and the only lake rehabilitation project
that will be paid for out of 1992 bond funds. It is also the only lake
the city intends to restore using a comprehensive approach.
Critics claim poor planning and the years of neglect have made the
lakes unhealthy for wildlife.
With the exception of Elk Glen Lake, the park's man-made lakes in the
Chain of Lakes in Golden Gate Park were constructed more than 100 years
ago with very shallow bottoms. Over time, the lakes have become shallower
and more polluted from years of sediment accumulation, debris and algae.
The 1994 report said that, with the exception of Stow Lake and Lily
Pond, the lakes were leaking into the ground at a rate of more than
500,000 gallons of water per day.
The combination of shallow bottoms and leakage has caused the quality
of the water in almost all of the lakes to deteriorate to the point
where they are unsuitable for wildlife.
To restore the lakes, the report recommended a comprehensive approach
that includes hardening the perimeters, removing, draining and disposing
of sediment, and deepening and sealing the bottoms with clay. It also
recommended installing expensive aeration equipment to ensure that the
water remains healthy.
North Lake project underway this summer
North Lake was the first lake constructed as part of the Chain of Lakes
Project in 1898. It is one the most natural-looking lakes in Golden
Gate Park. It has six small islands planted with exotic vegetation and
a levee that divides it into two segments.
The lake, along with South Lake and Middle Lake, underwent minor reconstruction
in 1983, which included vegetation removal and general sediment excavation.
Bentonite was also applied to the lake's bottom to prevent leakage.
By 1990, the north end of the lake was leaking again and had to be
sealed again. It continues to leak today. The shoreline of North Lake
is severely eroded, contributing to the deterioration of the water quality
and making it difficult for wildlife to inhabit the lake.
Recently, the SF Recreation and Park Department took a series of steps
to prepare the North Lake for restoration. One of first was to remove
invasive tule vegetation and introduce additional landscaping around
Middle Lake to provide habitat for wildlife expected to be displaced
during the restoration process.
In September work began to dredge the lake to increase its depth up
to eight feet in some areas. Dan Mauer, project manager, says that the
restoration encompasses all the recommendations contained in the 1994
report, including lining the bottom with clay and installing a complex
pipe irrigation system to keep the water clean and habitable for wildlife.
Lakes ignored while bond money dries up
When voters approved the bond in 1992, which included restoring of
all of the lakes in Golden Gate Park, restoration plans were put on
hold after it was discovered that blueprints for the first priority
the park's aging sewer, irrigation and electrical systems
had to be reproduced before work could begin.
"We didn't have drawings or plans to work from and we had to do
aerial flyovers to get an accurate picture. We had to figure out what
was there," explained Shannon Maloney, a project manager for the
Department of Public Works.
In 2001, the city scrapped plans to restore Middle Lake and South Lake
after the community raised objections to removing trees and voiced concerns
over other features of the project, according to city officials. Most
of the funds were spent on other projects in Golden Gate Park.
Today the lakes have deteriorated to such an extent that maintenance
work is well beyond the capability of the park staff, according to some
"Most of the problems are beyond us from a maintenance standpoint.
We are now dealing with emergency problems in an emergency way,"
said one park supervisor who declined to be identified.
Stow Lake riddled with garbage and debris; boat concession loses
Stow Lake, the most spectacular lake in Golden Gate Park, was built
in 1893 and was originally designed for leisure boating and as a promenade
for horse drawn carriages.
According to the 1994 report, Stow Lake had a sediment deposit of 35
inches, well above the other lakes, which ranged from low of 3.5 inches
in Lily Pond to 17 inches in Elk Glen Lake.
The report called Stow Lake "a demonstration of the great impact
upon water quality of aquatic life and waterfowl, intimate public interface,
dense overhanging vegetation and poor circulation and erosion."
Today debris in the lake has caused the water to deteriorate to the
point that the owners of the boat concession stopped renting electric
boats to tourists last summer.
"We tried for the longest time to deal with it. Finally, it came
to the point where we were having to give refunds, so we only rent pedal
and rowboats now. They are easier to maintain and you can use the oars
to push off when you get stuck in the debris," said Jeff Fones,
who manages the boat concession at Stow Lake.
Fones also said that when the city turned off the generator at Huntington
Falls to save money during the recent energy crisis, the water quality
deteriorated even further.
Gary Hoy, manager of the Recreation and Park Department's Capital Program,
confirmed recently that the city intends to dredge Stow Lake and do
some work around the perimeter, but he said funds were not available
to do the type of restoration recommended in the report.
Algae bloom kills fish in Spreckels Lake
In June, workers at Golden Gate Park responsible for maintaining Spreckels
Lake, the most urban lake in the park, became alarmed when hundreds
of dead fish began washing up on the shoreline.
Unusually warm weather turned the second largest lake in Golden Gate
Park into a death trap for fish when the hot weather triggered an algae
bloom that depleted the lake's oxygen supply.
As far back as the 1994 report, the water quality in Spreckels Lake
was described as "poor, particularly along the eastern edge where
natural winds blow the debris and surface algae."
According to Hoy, if the City gets the money it anticipates from the
$35 million state bond voters passed this year the lake will be dredged.
The City is also considering installing aerating equipment if money
Hoy said the City is looking at ways to improve the water at Lily Pond,
but he confirmed that the rehabilitation projects envisioned today for
the lakes fall far short of what the report recommended in 1994.
Back to Richmond Review Front Page