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Businesses around Big Bear Lake are affected by drought
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Businesses around Big Bear Lake are affected by drought

BIG BEAR, Calif.  The Department of Water Resources stated that California is still in drought despite the record snowfall and heavy rains of December. The next few weeks will be crucial, especially for Big Bear which gets its water through rain.

What You Need to Know

  • 1977: Big Bear Lake was 18.4 feet below full.
  • The lake was 13-16ft below full between April 2021 – Jan 2022
  • The fastest recent drop in lake levels was between 2012-2017
  • Big Bear Lake was full when it was last filled in 2012.

The drought continues to have many negative effects on Big Bear Valley, particularly for businesses that depend on the lake.

Big Bear Marina owner, Steve Fengler, said that during last spring and summer seasons, he had to physically move his docks and storefront to deeper water.  

He pointed to a structure several hundred yards away from his position and said, “That usually should be right here.”

Fengler pointed at the ramp he was standing on, which leads to a dock at Big Bear’s end of Paine Court. He pointed out a faintly blue line to the right of the ramp, and said that if Big Bear Lake were full, that line would be where it would be.

The lake was between 13 and 16 feet full from spring last year through the current winter. (See historical and current lake levels. Here.)

Even after the recent storms the lake is still about 15 feet below its full capacity as of January 2022.

Because of the ongoing shallower water, Fengler and his team have had to physically move his business by pulling up metal poles jammed into the bottom of the lake and floating the docks and buildings about five football fields out toward the center of the lake.

It has been a bit of a struggle. It has. Fengler stated that we have just adjusted to the situation.

Fengler has been the owner of Big Bear Marina for nine years. The lake has never been empty during that time, which has made him a strategic thinker about where to find the right things for each season.

It was fun to explore the area and find out where the water is. He said, “So far, so bien.”

To locate a spot, he uses tools like a stick and markers at every foot. He explained that he just stuck it into the water and then he would put it in the ground right here. We are almost at seven foot right now.

Fengler stated that he would be able to make it through the entire season, which runs from April to October. He won’t have to move anything around again.

Big Bear Municipal Water District General Manager Mike Stephenson said he has seen the lake full three times during his three-plus decades with the district.  

It was full when I first started in 1996. It was full again when I started in 1996, and it was again full in 2012. He said that the number has been steadily dropping since then.

He said that the lowest level of the lake was in 1977, when it was 18.4 feet below its full capacity. Some estimates place the lake at 72 feet at its deepest.

He stated, “The fastest we went from full to fifteen feet down was between 2012 and 2017.”

There have been logistical problems for the district and businesses, which have had the emergency dock moved further out.

It is difficult to maintain water quality because you are evaporating or distilling water from the lake. There are many nutrient left behind, which can lead eventually to algae blooms, weed problems, and other such things.

It has been dealt with before. The only solution is more water in Big Bear Lake. Stephenson explained that Mother Nature is the only source of water in Big Bear.

He laughed and said that to fill the lake, we do a rain dance. 

Fengler believes that the lake he loves will once again be full.

He was positive it would, and history shows it will, he said.

Fengler stated that he would have to move things around in the coming season. It is worth it to ensure that families can continue to make memories at Big Bear just like he did growing-up.

He said that it was a great feeling for Shelly and me.

He said you can’t beat that feeling and that environment that he and his wife call their office and home.

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