Draining Laguna Lake
Updated: Jan 2, 2021
Laguna Lake before Being Drained (Photo Courtesy of History Center of San Luis Obispo County)
Before Laguna Lake was drained, it was a 350 acre natural lake, which had an average water depth of six feet. Nearby farmers wanted to drain the lake for cultivation, because the soil would prove to be very fertile. It was estimated that the land sold for one-hundred dollars per acre. In addition, blackbirds prey on the tules that surround the lake; in turn, they also destroy the grains farmed around the lake (thousands of pounds destroyed annually). Therefore, the draining of the lake also meant the removal of the tules, hence forcing the blackbirds to migrate elsewhere as well. But draining the lake was no easy task.
Draining Laguna Lake
Laguna Lake was to be drained in order to deepen the water level, but most importantly, to decrease the size of the lake in order to accommodate land needed for agriculture. To drain Laguna Lake, a ditch had to be built from the lake to Foreman Creek, where it would eventually intersect with the San Luis Creek. The ditch was to be twelve feet wide at the top and five feet wide at the bottom. In addition, they had to enlarge Foreman creek to be sixteen feet wide in order to accommodate the gravel and debris that fills up the creek bed during the rainy months. Therefore, a channel of Foreman Creek was to be removed and brush dams were built in hopes that the ditch would remain clear of debris. Since the distance from Laguna Lake to San Luis Creek was 1.25 miles, that was the length of the ditch. Initially, this task was left to the White men, but they quickly abandoned the task because it was no easy work. Instead, Ah Louis' laborers worked on draining the lake and building the ditch, for a total of $1100. Moreover, one night, while camping near Foreman Creek to cut the ditch, the water rose and two feet of water covered their camp. As can be seen, draining Laguna Lake was a laborious task that only the Chinese were willing to undertake.
"San Luis Obispo Weekly Tribune" 15 April 1882, pg. 1
"San Luis Obispo Weekly Tribune" 3 November 1882, pg. 1
"San Luis Obispo Weekly Tribune" 11 May 1883, pg. 2