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Lake Elsinore reaches new depths thanks to recent storms

LAKE ELSINORE,, CA. MARCH 1, 2024: The beach at Launch Pointe marina at Lake Elsinore is now completely covered wiuth water. The tree in the water used to shade beachgoers on a sandbar. After a series of heavy rainstorms hit Southern California, water levels at Lake Elsinore have risen to one of the highest marks in 25 years PHOTOS FOR THE TIMES BY MARK BOSTER ©Mark Boster.2024
The beach at Launch Pointe marina on Lake Elsinore is now completely covered with water. The tree in the water used to shade beachgoers on a sandbar. (Mark Boster/For The Times)

After a series of atmospheric river storms dumped record levels of rain on Southern California, the region's largest natural freshwater lake has recovered in a major way.

As of last week, Lake Elsinore was deeper than it had been since June 2011, according to data from the Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District. Years of drought and the occasional wet winter have caused wide variations in the lake's depth.

At 1,248 feet above sea level, the lake is now more than 10 feet deeper than it was in July 2022, and almost 15 feet deeper than at its lowest recent point, in November 2018.

The deeper lake attracts visitors and commerce but also presents challenges, said Lake Elsinore spokesman Jovanny Huerta.

On the one hand, "the algae issue takes care of itself," he said. Toxic algae has made the water unsafe and caused the city to shut down the lake several times in recent years, according to the Press-Enterprise.

On the other hand, "our public beach at launch point is under about 5 feet of water," according to Huerta, though he noted that other beaches were still available.

When it comes to getting big rains, the city is "damned if we do and damned if we don't," he joked.

Water levels at Lake Elsinore have risen to one of the highest marks in 25 years.
After a series of heavy rainstorms hit Southern California, water levels at Lake Elsinore are near a 25-year high. (Mark Boster/For The Times)

"Before, the issue was that we didn't have enough water in the lake because of the drought," but recent conditions "set us up for success," he said.

With more rain in the forecast, the deepest point in the lake has already risen from around 18 feet to 30 feet, he said.

A partially submerged dock rises up out of the water at Launch Pointe at Lake Elsinore.
A partially submerged dock rises up out of the water at Launch Pointe at Lake Elsinore. (Mark Boster/For The Times)

If the lake gains two more feet of depth, water arriving from the San Jacinto watershed will be diverted to an outflow channel into the Santa Ana River, thanks to "a levee system that was constructed after the major floods in the ’80s," Huerta said.

A pelican glides past the reflection of a partially submerged tree in Lake Elsinore.
A pelican glides past the reflection of a partially submerged tree on what used to be the beach at Launch Pointe marina on Lake Elsinore. (Mark Boster/For The Times)

"We are open for business and we are excited to receive hundreds of thousands of people this summer," Huerta said. The city now expects "more boaters, more kayakers, more anglers."

The official opening day for lake season in Lake Elsinore is April 14, with free access and free boating passes available and plenty of spots to fish.

"When the lake is thriving, the economy is thriving," Huerta said.

The palm trees at the Elsinore West Marina at Lake Elsinore are now under water.
The palm trees at the Elsinore West Marina at Lake Elsinore are now under water. (Mark Boster/For The Times)

Lake Elsinore is also famous for its poppy frenzy. The wet weather that has rejuvenated the city's namesake lake may also bring even more poppies this spring.

After closing to tourists in past years to protect the blooms and avoid the traffic headaches brought on by visiting flower fans, the city is now considering whether to make the poppy fields along the shore accessible to visitors.

As for poppy season, "you know how that can get," Huerta said.

Fisherman Johnathan O. Skinner floats out to his favorite spot on Lake Elsinore, trying to catch a catfish or a bass.
Fisherman Johnathan O. Skinner floats out to his favorite spot on Lake Elsinore, trying to catch a catfish or a bass. (Mark Boster/For The Times)

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.