San Gabriel Valley Tribune

San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Article Published: Sunday, September 14, 2003


- Under Siege
- Cartels growing pot in forest
- Forest at crossoads over public use
- Lake not so crystal
- Fire threat still high, officials say
- Facing Extinction
- Masses and Messes
- A foul problem: garbage
- Groups spread blame for forest damage
- Forest dwellers have created their share of problems
- 'Static' budget hinders forest
- Bad roads hinder vistor, fire vehicle access
- Adventure Pass raises funds, eyebrows
- Saving the forest a tall task


Lake not so crystal now

By Lisa Faught, Staff Writer

ANGELES NATIONAL FOREST -- Crystal Lake is thick with algae and sediment.

Over the years, the once pristine lake has transformed to murky, earning it a place on the federal 303(d) list of polluted water bodies.

The lake, high up in the Angeles National Forest where state Highway (39) ends, is a popular spot for fishermen, picnickers and campers.

A combination of people dumping their aquariums and sediment washing down after fires has led to edges ringed in muck, weeds strangling the bottom and non-native fish populating the lake's waters.

"It's pretty bad. It's nowhere near the condition we want it to be in," said Karen Fortus, resource officer for the San Gabriel River Ranger District.

Forest Service workers have been trying to clean it for years. Last fall, they saw their chance.

During the Curve Fire, one of two record-setting fires that burned about 60,000 acres from north of Azusa to north of Claremont, helicopters dipped buckets into the lake to help squelch the flames. With the water level so low, forest officials decided to drain the lake.

But after weeks of pumping, they finally abandoned the project in March -- water kept seeping back into the lake through underground springs, Fortus said.

Soon after, a spate of spring rain carved huge chasms near the lake, from sediment loosened by the burns.

Now, after landing a $100,000 state grant for the project, workers plan to pick up where they left off in the next couple months.

In a wet year, the Angeles National Forest produces about 35 percent of the drinking water for the county -- enough water for up to 2 million people.

"Water falls from the sky, lands on the dirt and then it collects in channels or rivers," said Paulo Herrera, of Los Angeles County Public Works. "We try to save the water the best we can."

For the most part, the water is pure.

But a few spots in the Angeles National Forest are in need of monitoring -- Crystal Lake, the East Fork of the San Gabriel River and Elizabeth Lake.

All three made the 303(d) list, put out by the Environmental Protection Agency. The list requires the state to set a target for restoring the water quality, then assigns an agency the task.

The East Fork of the San Gabriel River was one of the first to make the list, for the mountains of trash left on its banks every weekend.

In the summer months, San Gabriel Canyon is crowded with thousands of visitors, especially along the East Fork. They come to get away from the heat and sit in the cool waters of the river.

But when they leave, they leave their trash behind.

So the Regional Water Quality Control Board has set a goal of zero trash in the river, said Jonathan Bishop, chief of the regional program section.

"The problem is usually in the urban areas," Bishop said. "I'm surprised this would show up in the forest."

-- Lisa Faught can be reached at (626) 578-6300, Ext. 4496, or by e-mail at

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