Lake Hodges reopens for boating and fishing after dam repairs completed

Lake Hodges, seen in early 2022, reopened for recreation this week after a year-long closure to repair the dam.
(John Gastaldo/For The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Century-old dam required a full year of work to seal up leaks and defects; replacement expected in about 10 more years


Lake Hodges reopened for boating and fishing this week after a one-year closure to repair deteriorating concrete on the upstream face of its century-old dam.

“We are excited to be able to once again offer this beautiful fishing and recreational resource to the community,” said Arian Collins, San Diego’s supervising public information officer, in an email Thursday.

“Initial reports are indicating this could be one of the best fishing seasons in recent years, and we encourage San Diegans to visit,” Collins said.

Kayaking, canoeing, rental boat fishing, shore fishing and float tubing are allowed from sunrise to sunset on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from February through October. The lake, which is a public reservoir near Escondido, is closed on the third Wednesday of every month. No swimming is allowed, and private boat launches are unavailable because of the lowered water level.

Also, the Coast to Crest Trail managed by the San Dieguito River Park Joint Powers Authority is open for hiking seven days a week along the north side of the lake.

The water level was lowered 18 feet to an elevation of 275 feet for planned maintenance work in May 2022, which revealed the discovery of new cracks and defects that extended the dam repairs into this year.

Officials reduced the condition of the dam from “poor” to “unsatisfactory” after the new cracks were discovered. The water will remain at the lower level until a new dam can be built about 100 feet downstream from the existing one.

“It is envisioned a new dam could be built by 2034 following the required environmental review, design and permitting processes,” Collins said. “The preliminary cost estimate is $275 million.”

Costs for the project will be split between the San Diego County Water Authority (50 percent), the city of San Diego (25 percent) and the Santa Fe Irrigation District and San Dieguito Water District (25 percent). The city also is exploring federal grants and loans from agencies such as FEMA.

“Hodges Dam remains safe with the water level below its maximum,” states an explanation of the project on a San Diego city webpage. “This has a significant effect by relieving the water pressure on the dam and reducing the total volume within the reservoir.”

Additional assessments and maintenance of the dam are planned over the next five years, it states.

The lake was created when the Hodges Dam was built in 1918. It is operated by the San Diego Public Utilities Department, and the water is used primarily by the cities of San Diego and Solana Beach.

It is one of nine local reservoirs that play a key role in San Diego County’s water supply.

San Diego’s reservoirs collect local rainwater, which is much cheaper than the imported water that makes up most of the city’s supply.

The dams at all the city’s reservoirs are among the oldest in the state. Three others — El Capitan, built in 1935; Morena, built in 1912; and Lower Otay, built in 1918 — are in poor condition.