Secret places in the Santa Cruz
Heres another place you havent been. At least legally. And
its a beautiful scenic site, right here in the heart of the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Down behind the old Loma Prieta school, down Wrights Station, is the
areas most exquisite jewelLake Elsman. The water is blue, clear and clean. In
places, its more than 140 feet deep. And except for a few employees, there are no
people. All you hear is the rush of water at the bottom of the spillway.
This is the way the Santa Cruz Mountains must have been several hundred
years ago. Quiet. Peaceful. Unpolluted by civilization.
But this is no Alpine lake. It is a 2 billion gallon reservoir, with an
earthen dam more than 900 feet in length and a 180 foot high, $9 million spillway. This
reservoir satisfies the thirst of a few million people. In a wet year, it provides more
than 12% of San Jose Water Works total water capacity. And the water is the cleanest
of any drawn from a local reservoir.
But this beautiful man-made lake and clean, clear water are
not without cost. San Jose Water has protected this lake and their 10,000 acre watershed
with armed guards. They have battled with neighbors, trespassers and would-be developers.
Their Burns guards were often brusque and threatening. And the company was quick to turn
to the sheriff, lawyers and law suits to maintain security.
As property manager William Moore admits, they havent been the
friendliest of neighbors. But he also pledges some softening in their approach. While they
will still block would-be trespassers, they promise to be more courteous and less
confrontational, especially to local mountain people.
The tour they gave twelve community members confirmed this new
approach. They showed us the lake, dam and spillway, drove us to the downstream Ostwald
intake where they pump 17 million gallons per day, and on to their treatment plant next to
They were great hosts, friendly and informative. They said
they would be happy to host group tours. It certainly appears that there is a
"kinder, gentler" policy in place.
Although I embrace this new policy, there is a small, little voice that
keeps asking "why?" Does the company have future plans that require community
support? Do they foresee a day when development, logging or some other project will
require public hearings and local acceptance? Or does management simply appreciate the
fact that being friendly is a good corporate ethic. Well see.
As for opening the watershed to the public, I was surprised at a young
neighbors reaction. He said, "Ive hiked here all my life, and Ive
been chased off the property, but Id rather have my use limited than see this
peaceful watershed destroyed by careless and destructive crowds."
Perhaps this is one case where compromise is the best solution--limited,
supervised use but not a public invasion. Even if we all acted responsibly, there are just
too many of us, so maybe Lake Elsman should forever remain a secret place in the Santa
What do you think? E-mail me at Neil@mnn.net, or call