Bring Back Lake Lag

Posted by at 6:48PM

Endless summer at Stanford. This is an actual photo. I'm suppressing my jaw-drop reflex.

Today’s sorry state of Lake Lag makes me nostalgic.

I gaze out upon today’s pseudo-marshy wasteland and recollect it in its former glory – a lake, a real lake, full of sailboats, canoes, and windsurfers.  Students lounge by the shore and toss Frisbees in the shallows.  A warm breeze teases the pages of my textbook which I’ve all but cast aside as I bask in the wave-reflected sunlight.

Granted, as a current student, I’ve never had those experiences.  But as Stanford Magazine oh-too-tantalizingly reminds us, Lake Lag was once a year-round wonderland, the perfect final capstone to our beloved Camp Stanford.  Can you imagine having sailing classes right on campus?  Being able to jump in a kayak to let off some post-midterm steam?  Taking a morning swim beside a Dish-silhouetted sunrise?  Given the recent surge in student wellness efforts, I’m surprised Lake Lag hasn’t been a top priority.

I want Lake Lag back.  Stanford is wasting what could be, should be, a wonderful resource on campus.  I understand that there are environmental, safety, and monetary concerns that have prevented Lag’s return, but I have a targeted plan for restoring our lovely lake.  Grab your swim-trunks and your flippy-floppies, ’cause I’m on a mission.

The Salamander

The culprit.

The widely-accepted reason Stanford won’t refill the lake is Ambystoma californiense.  The “vulnerable” (not endangered, just “vulnerable”) California tiger salamander.  Personally, I have yet to see any such creature in all my Lag excursions, but I respect its right to be protected.  That said, the California tiger salamander’s natural habitat is “large, fishless vernal pools or similar water bodies” which, to me, is just another way of saying “a habitat exactly like the past Lake Lag.”  Um, lame.

Additionally, there are numerous locations within our county that constitute the salamander’s proper habitat, and species relocation is becoming an increasingly viable and easy option.  California’s Wildlife Services “relocates animals and disperses numerous birds each year,” and given that Lake Lag wasn’t the salamanders’ original habitat to begin with, it kind of makes sense that they should go home to their natural environment.  Indeed, herpetologists argue that salamanders are even more endangered in the Lake Lag habitat because they have to migrate across Junipero Serra Boulevard and are often killed by cars.  Fail.  Stanford should definitely consider revising its Habitat Conservation Plan to move the salamanders to a safer, off-campus location where they won’t serve as constant roadkill.

Safeguarding Against Stupidity

Stanford's new Lake Lag work-study program

This is perhaps the most challenging obstacle.  Yes, sometimes people are stupid in and around water.  Yes, there’s an associated liability.  But supposedly we’re here because we’re smart.  Stanford students are, by and large, intelligent and responsible citizens with a heightened awareness of the hefty costs of misconduct: we’ve worked too hard and too long to get here to screw it up.

I understand that moral imperative alone is a naive safety policy.  But I believe that if coupled with appropriate protocols and firm enforcement, the re-institution of Lake Lag would be both logistically possible and legally feasible.  Stanford could extend the existing AlcoholEDU program to include water safety as well.  Demonstrated swimming proficiency would be a prerequisite to usage of Stanford’s boats.  The increased demand for student lifeguards would provide more on-campus and work-study jobs for our financial aid program.  Finally, a zero-tolerance hazing policy on frats and sororities would make unsafe shenanigans wildly unattractive.

The protocols are obvious and their implementation would be straightforward.

Funding Camp $tanford

Yes. These are actual pictures from Lake Lag.

The cost of keeping Lag full has been cited as another deterrent for restoring Lake Lag.  To which I respond: poppycock.  With the preponderance of happy Stanford alumni with fond memories of Lake Lag, the fundraising effort would be a simple appeal to nostalgia and school pride.   Can you name another university with a baller lake right on campus?  Right.

And I’m willing to sell out if that means Stanford can regain its former Endless-Summer-esque glory.  Call it Arrillaga Atoll, Bing Bay, Packard Puddle – I don’t care, just give us back the lake!

Bring back the glory days.  Bring back Lake Lag.

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15 Responses to “Bring Back Lake Lag”

  1. Jack says:

    Awesome idea.

  2. dan says:

    would be so awesome and epic!

  3. KN says:

    Agreed 100%

    The salamander should be relocated to Jasper Ridge. That’s why we have a 1200-acre biological preserve: to preserve wildlife like salamanders.

    But if you look at the really crazy politics surrounding the General Use Permit (which Stanford painstakingly hammered out with Santa Clara County), it quickly becomes obvious that all this salamander BS was and continues to be the county’s way of making sure that Stanford does not develop in the area around Lake Lag. They are terrified of the idea that Stanford will develop the foothills and have even discussed taking legal action to make sure that Stanford doesn’t (but Stanford’s taken Menlo Park to court before and won; it’s fair land use after all, it’s Stanford’s, the land was meant for academic purposes by the founders, and Stanford has 1200 acres set aside as a preserve. So the county can eat it).

    I don’t think there’s a safety issue–students used the lake responsibly for over 100 years.

    The one deterrent you missed is water use: Stanford is allowed to use at most 3 million gallons per day, and it’s already inching toward that limit. Filling the lake would probably make it harder for them to keep the county quiet about the environmental impacts of the university (which they and the city are constantly complaining about, though it’s really clear they don’t care that much about the environment, they just use that as leverage to get Stanford to pay them a ton of money–like with the recent hospital controversies).

    But the university is examining its uses of Searsville now, so maybe they’ll decide that they can afford to fill the lake.

  4. KN says:

    Also, they said in 2000 when the General Use Permit was finalized that it would expire in about 10 years. So it’s about now that they will start working out a new GUP. Thus right now would probably be the best time for students to start pushing to get Lake Lag back.

  5. Adam says:

    1) You said: “…California tiger salamander’s natural habitat is “large, fishless vernal pools or similar water bodies” which, to me, is just another way of saying “a habitat exactly like the past Lake Lag.” ” Yeah, to you, it’s just another way of saying that because you don’t know what vernal pools are. They’re a distinct habitat with distinct characteristics that matter to species like the CTS.
    2) “Additionally, there are numerous locations within our county that constitute the salamander’s proper habitat”. Where?
    3) “…and species relocation is becoming an increasingly viable and easy option”. No it’s not – where did you get that idea? Species relocation has never been a viable alternative, and certainly one that’s not easy. Let alone sustainable.
    4) “Stanford should definitely consider revising its Habitat Conservation Plan to move the salamanders to a safer, off-campus location where they won’t serve as constant roadkill.” If you had read the HCP thoroughly, you’d know that Stanford doesn’t want to protect the CTS (it costs them millions of dollars a year to do so), they’re required to by Federal Law. As a threatened species (and it still is endangered, see: http://www.epa.gov/espp/factsheets/ca-tiger-salamander.pdf), Stanford doesn’t have an option – they even have to stop construction indefinitely if they find a CTS on the site until Alan Launer the campus biologist comes to document the whole thing.
    5) KN, you said “The salamander should be relocated to Jasper Ridge. That’s why we have a 1200-acre biological preserve: to preserve wildlife like salamanders.” No – that’s not why we have a 1200-acre biological preserve. We have it for research and education. Introducing a non-native species would probably piss off some people like Chris Field – the nobel laureate who’s doing global warming benchmarking and california grassland forecasting research. Also, the habitats of Jasper Ridge (and there are many) are not the same as the lake. What makes you think the preserve will be a viable habitat for the CTS?

    Look, I want Lake Lag to be filled just as much as you all do. And I personally think it’s stupid how much importance is placed on this single species.

    But absolutely none of the environmental arguments are correct. Take an Ecology or Conservation Biology class. Read the Habitat Conservation Plan. Go to Jasper Ridge. I’ve done these things – and I think doing them will help you understand the layers of complication here.

    Again – I’d love to have a lake to play in. But this targeted plan doesn’t seem to present viable solutions to the environmental problems.

  6. Kristi says:

    @Adam:

    I’m flattered that you took my article so seriously and got so worked up about it. 😉 The primary purpose of my post was not to provide a comprehensive, detailed plan for actual implementation, but to inspire discussion of the topic and encourage people to consider the various issues at play. At which, on the basis of your impassioned response, I believe I have succeeded. You didn’t really think that a post discussing flippy-floppies and portraying a Stanford Baywatch cast was intended to be taken completely seriously? 😉

    That said, I have some important responses to your concerns.

    Yes, I very much do know what a vernal pool is. I studied herpetology extensively throughout high school as a part of California’s Science Olympiad, and I probably know more about salamanders and their gestation processes than a normal citizen might care to admit. In its historical seasonal rise and fall, Lake Lag quite nicely matched the type of “shallow, seasonal body of water that occurs in depressions in grassland and woodland areas” (SDSU) needed by the CTS.

    Vernal pools: there are a bunch in our area, many of which have substantial environmental protections surrounding them which would make them yet safer for the CTS. I don’t have time to Google Maps them for you but some of many include Deadman Creek Conservation Bank, Calero Reservoir, Livermore Valley in the East Bay, Jepson Prairie Preserve, and heavily-protected Mather Field in Sacramento.

    Pertaining to species relocation: please check out the links in my article. I’ve linked both California’s Wildlife Services and Stanford’s own Woods Institute for the Environment, both of which mention the successful use of species relocation and consider its increased use in response to the damaging effects of climate change. Sure, species relocation isn’t ideal, but in this and many other cases, it may be the best solution for an otherwise lose-lose situation. Consider the very successful case of CTS relocation documented on this site: http://www.harveyecology.com/PDF/2%20Endangered%20Species.pdf (pages 3-4)

    I know that Stanford would prefer not to have to protect the CTS. All the more reason to safely relocate the species where it would be more out of harm’s (and Stanford’s) way. And you need to double-check the document you linked: none of the areas for which the CTS was listed as either threatened or endangered included Santa Clara County.

  7. KN says:

    Adam,

    “No – that’s not why we have a 1200-acre biological preserve. We have it for research and education. ”

    A biological preserve by its very nature is meant to, well, preserve life. Yes, it is used for research and education, but to assert that its purpose is only that is wrong.

    “What makes you think the preserve will be a viable habitat for the CTS?”

    You don’t think it’d be extremely easy to simulate the habitat if the habitat isn’t already present? It’s not like vernal pools in Lake Lag are very unique. 😉

    You did not address the fact that the county is only using the CTS as an excuse to stop Stanford from developing in the area. It was not a legitimate concern then and still is not a legitimate concern; but they continue to use that as an excuse. Its population would have moved naturally if Stanford was not barred from protecting them and forced to spend money to ensure their population growth. That’s the reason that we observe more CTS in the area now; they were not important until the county forced them to be important.

    Seriously, you should read the articles written around 2000 about the GUP. It was fraught with politics and one of the biggest contentions was the CTS, which many biologists contested was actually a reason for stopping Stanford from building in the area.

  8. Sasha says:

    @Kristi: I was completely UNABLE to suppress the jaw-drop reflex. JUST IMAGINE HOW GOOD PICTURES LIKE THAT WOULD LOOK IN THE BROCHURE. It would say 4 words: suck it, Ivy League.

  9. PamK says:

    Hey! I’m one of those alumni with the great memories…windsurfing, Big Way Yacht Club, etc. I have friends. I want to help. If it rains, then the lake will fill if we fix the dam. If not then it will still be ‘better’ than it is. Who will help me fix the dam? I wish I lived nearby.

  10. UC Davis says:

    Jepson Prairie is in Dixon which is very far from Stanford and your beloved lake. If you are so learned about vernal pool ecology and the need for caudate biodiversity then you would understand that we need SEVERAL areas where CTS can establish and re-establish breeding colonies. This species has been extirpated throughout 90% of its original range. Also Mather field which is even further out then Dixon is not suitable habitat. There are too many houses, buildings and other human development for a colony to re-establish there. CTS needs miles of undisturbed areas abundant in rotting logs, grass lands, and rodent burrows in addition to a vernal pool.

    Bitching about how badly you want a lake is pathetic. I would expect more from a student of your fine school. Drive to the beach or go buy a damn bike if you want excercise.

  11. Who Cares says:

    THEY ARE FUCKING SALAMANDERS, WHO GIVES A FUCK.

  12. KN says:

    UC Davis,

    “CTS needs miles of undisturbed areas abundant in rotting logs, grass lands, and rodent burrows in addition to a vernal pool.”

    And Lake Lag does not provide that. It’s about 26 acres in total (0.04 sq mi), and an even smaller part of that provides CTS with usable habitat. There are no rotting logs or rodent burrows. You can’t even call it “grass land,” either. It’s also not undisturbed; people go walking across the lake all the time. So by your own admission, Lake Lag is the antithesis of a suitable habitat for CTS.

    “UC Davis,” you don’t seem to know anything about the situation at Stanford. The CTS did not even heavily use Lake Lag until the county forced Stanford to stop filling up the lake and spend $100,000 on underground tunnels to bring them into the lake. Everyone in the administration knows that the county only used the CTS as an excuse to stop Stanford from building; the county’s conviction to stop Stanford from building (not just around the lake, but elsewhere too) is bordering on religious, and has been the biggest point of contention for the university for 12 years now.

    Research a little before criticizing people, esp. on a topic you know nothing about.

  13. Jared says:

    As a matter of fact, the tiger salamander is THE REASON there is any water in Lake Lag at all. The reason we cannot fill up lake lag is that the dam no longer has any integrity – it was built 100 years ago, and is infested with rodent holes and rusting metal which could not hold up the sheer weight of water that a full lake lag would hold. If it weren’t for the California Tiger Salamander (A federally listed endangered species neither amenable to relocation nor legally disturb-able), there would be no water in lake lag at all- the university probably would build over the area. Ask Alan Launer about the truth of this before complaining about how some salamander is stopping you from having an even more picture-perfect campus.

  14. Rayman says:

    Hehe nice.

  15. Jerry says:

    I swam, fished, rafted there in the ’60’s.
    They had bonfires every summer there. I think on the 4th of July.
    There were thousands of small fish and small frogs there as it dried up every summer.

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