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The economy may be down but water levels in Central Valley reservoirs are heading up, offering the promise of a better year for fishermen and water sports enthusiasts.
“Water levels will be higher than last year,” said Carol Russell, director of the Lake Don Pedro Recreation Agency. “All our (boat) launch ramps will be available. It will be a better year, water-wise, than last year.”
Russell said she doesn’t envision any restrictions this summer on boating, water skiing, jet skiing or fishing at Lake Don Pedro. She’s more worried about the economy and its effect on boaters and campers.
Last year, Russell said, relatively low water levels and a series of economic factors resulted in about a 10 percent drop-off in people who traveled to Lake Don Pedro for recreational purposes.
This year, she said, attendance in March was running about 20 percent behind March 2008.
“The lake is a great recreational resource,” she said. “It’s inexpensive and close to home. It’s a great way to get away to, especially when it’s hot.”
Attendance also has been down at Camanche Reservoir, where camping fees have been reduced to just $8 a night. Campers during prime time – Memorial Day Weekend — will pay from $27.50 to $32 a night.
Camanche campgrounds already are sold out for Memorial Day Weekend 2009.
“We’re hoping to stimulate a little more activity (with the $8-a-night fee),” said Chris Cantwell, general manager of the Camanche Recreation Co. “Last weekend was very busy.”
But Cantwell wasn’t sure whether it was the warm mid-April weather, the reduced fee or a combination of the two that accounted for the spike.
“Fishing this spring,” Cantwell said, “is the best I’ve seen in probably four years.”
When it comes to water recreation, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is another popular Central Valley summertime getaway.
The Delta often makes headlines because of controversies about its role as the primary water source for more than 25 million Californians, 515,000 of whom live within its boundaries.
With 425,700 acres of agriculture, 64,000 acres of urban and commercial use and 61,000 acres of open water; the Delta plays a vital role in the state’s $2 billion a year agriculture industry. It also shelters nearly 500 different species of mammals, reptiles and amphibians, birds, fish and flowering plants.
But Delta recreation is a huge industry with boaters spending $450 million a year and fishermen spending another $350 million annually – pumping life into an economy primarily driven by 290 shoreline recreation areas and some 200 marinas, according to date compiled by the Delta Protection Commission.
“The Delta is a huge part of Stockton, the Port of Stockton, the city’s downtown and San Joaquin County,” said Douglass Wilhoit, CEO of the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce. “The events and marinas and other activities associated with the Delta certainly bring significant dollars into the area.”
There also is good news from the boating sector, said Doug Pardini, sales associate with Delta Marine Sales and Service in Stockton. “January sales were very good, February was slower but March and April has been really good.”
People are looking to buy boats in the late winter and early spring and summer, said Pardini. “We’re working on sales for larger boats, houseboats and pontoon boats.”
He said the pontoon variety still is the most popular.
About 100 boat dealerships failed in California last year, which, Pardini said, “could account for the increase in customers. The same amount of customers with fewer dealers,” he said. “It seems people are always looking for boats.”
Delta marinas also are in the midst of what could prove to be another good year.
“Last year was one of the best I’ve seen for fishing in the 30 years I’ve been here and I expect 2009 to be excellent,” said Korinne Flowers, owner of Tracy Oasis Marina. “May through September looks good for business, most of which is fishing because it’s relatively inexpensive sport.”
Rich Williams, harbor master for River Point Landing Marina/Resort, said 2009 reservations “are on a par with last year with many people coming from Sacramento, Modesto and Manteca. In these economic times, people seem to be traveling to recreate in a 60 to 80-mile radius of their homes.”
While high fuel prices in 2008 were an issue that’s not the case so far this year. But Williams is convinced that “as long as people have money to spend, they’ll use their toys.”
Businesses in the Delta are benefiting from recreational activities that have grown substantially, said San Joaquin County Supervisor Ken Vogel. “The county receives property and sales taxes from facilities in the Delta and the ongoing drought doesn’t seem to have had much of an effect on the Delta.”
Mike Robinson, a member of Restore the Delta and a Delta farmer, said businesses, boaters and fishermen should be concerned about the proposed peripheral canal that would divert fresh Sacramento River water around the Delta to the pumps near Tracy.
Without that water, he said, “The Delta could become a brackish, salt water marsh and from a recreational point of view that would have a huge impact on marinas, fishing, boating and tourism.”