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[whitespace] Lexington at lowest level in four years

Los Gatos--Although a dry early winter has Lexington Reservoir at its lowest level in five years, that's not stopping some recreational users.

The Los Gatos Rowing Club, for one, is still out on the water every afternoon--although it's not exactly the same.

Skip Bratz, the rowing team's head coach, says the crews have to deal with more submerged obstructions, like stumps and shallow spots, and they have to carry the boat a lot farther to get it down to the water, but they're still out rowing on what water remains.

Lexington is 69 feet below the top of the spillway, and down to about 23 percent of total capacity. But until the watershed sees a significant rainfall, Santa Clara Valley Water District officials are cutting the amount of water being released from 60 cubic feet per second down to just eight, to keep fish in the river.

The last time the reservoir was that low was January 1995. But it didn't last long: after heavy rains blew through the area that winter, the reservoir was spilling over the dam at 102 percent of capacity just a few weeks later.

"It all depends on what Mother Nature throws our way," says water district spokesman Mike DiMarco.

DiMarco says the low water level is just a function of the dry start to this winter, and isn't related to the work going on in and around the dam.

District engineers are installing pressure gauges deep inside the earthen dam that they hope will give them the answers they need to figure out why the 52-inch pipe that drains the dam mysteriously buckled. The last group of gauges, called peizometers, were installed last week.

Crews are also building temporary access roads on the reservoir side of the spillway to get trucks and equipment down to the pumps. And as the work continues, floating pumps have taken the place of the main discharge pipe through the bottom of the dam.

"We do know we have pressure around the pipe, but we don't know the source, and we need to know that in order to know what repairs we need to make," DiMarco said.

State regulations set a sliding scale for how much water is discharged from reservoirs, depending on time of year and percent of capacity. Accordingly, even if heavy rains dumped several inches into the watershed, much of the water would be pumped out early in the rainy season, but would be retained if it fell in late spring.

As for the stump-dodging rowers, DiMarco says the water district tries to be sensitive to recreational uses, but its first priority is recharging underground aquifers.

Coach Bratz just hopes his teams don't have to keep avoiding submerged stumps. "We have three words around here: pray for rain," he says. "We'd rather see El Niño than La Niña."
Jeff Kearns

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