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Lake Calavera FAQs


1. What is the history of Lake Calavera? 

Lake Calavera is a manmade lake that was originally used as an agricultural reservoir. A dam was added at the southwest side of the lake in 1940 and is now controlled by the City of Carlsbad under a state-issued permit. 

Today, the lake is considered a recreational body of water and serves as a scenic backdrop for walkers, hikers, cyclists and others who enjoy the trails in the Calavera Preserve. 

The lake level rises from urban runoff and precipitation, and can be manually lowered by the city when lake levels reach the dam spillway. This prevents flooding downstream in areas like Rancho Carlsbad. 

The city cannot manually raise the lake level; that job is handled by Mother Nature. 

2. What is the lake used for?

Lake Calavera is considered a recreational body of water that serves as a scenic backdrop to the Calavera Preserve for walkers, hikers, cyclists and others who enjoy the trails. Swimming and fishing are not recommended in the lake because of urban runoff and potential disturbance to the surrounding natural habitat. 

3. Why is the water level so low?

The lake level was manually lowered in February 2017 when the lake reached the spillway due to heavier than normal rains. The city lowered the lake in order to prevent flooding downstream. Since then, a number of issues have contributed to the lake remaining lower than usual:

  • Weather has been drier than usual, which leads to increased evaporation of lake water
  • Precipitation has been seasonally low, therefore rain water has not added to the lake
  • Unprecedented water conservation efforts have decreased urban runoff, which is a main source of lake water

4. Will the water level come back up soon?

The water level will eventually increase with precipitation and urban runoff - the lake’s main sources of water. The slow rate of refill is due to naturally occurring evaporation, recent residential water restrictions and low precipitation levels due to drought conditions. 

5. What can the city do to increase the water level? 

The City of Carlsbad does not have water suitable to add to Lake Calavera. Rainfall and urban runoff will naturally refill the lake, but the timing and rate of this is unpredictable. 

6. Is the low water level impacting wildlife in the preserve?

No. Native wildlife are adapted to living in an arid environment. Furthermore, most riparian plant species (wildlife habitat) have deep roots and can survive periods of drought. 

7. Aren’t there valves in the lake that can adjust the water level?

There are valves, but they can only let water out of the lake. The valves cannot add water to Lake Calavera, but with rainfall and runoff, the lake water level will increase over time. 

8. I heard the valves are broken. Is that true, and if so, when will they be fixed? 

The valves do need repair; however, they are not responsible for the lake’s water loss. The city is currently seeking state approval for its plan to repair the valves. Once approved, the valves will serve as an additional mechanism to manage water levels. 

9. What happens if the lake levels increase too quickly while the valves are being repaired?

In the event that water levels near the top of the damn, Carlsbad has established processes to release water as necessary while the valves are being repaired.

10. What can I do in the meantime?

Lake Calavera visitors are reminded to stay on marked trails and keep dogs on leash. When water levels are low, visitors should avoid wading in the lake and stay off mud flats as the terrain could be unsteady. Disturbing the habitat should always be avoided.  

11. I still have questions. Who can I contact?

For more information, please call 760-602-2780 or visit www.carlsbadca.gov/trails