The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California finished filling its new reservoir, Diamond Valley Lake, last year, and the giant body of water opened for public boating and angling last fall. Even though those events capped a decade of planning, engineering and construction in the western Riverside County desert, the Met is far from finished at Diamond Valley Lake.

The agency plans to build about $20 million worth of recreational and educational facilities near the reservoir in the near term, and even more facilities are proposed eventually. All of the amenities promise to make the new reservoir a center of outdoor recreation for Southern California.

Furthermore, the Met is in the process of planning a far more ambitious development — as many as 2,400 housing units and 40 acres of commercial development on 750 acres the agency owns north and east of the lake. That urban development would, in part, pay for the recreational and educational facilities, and provide additional revenues for the water agency.

The proposed 750-acre urban development was not part of the original Diamond Valley Lake project. However, the territory is already designated for residential development in the City of Hemet’s general plan — so the proposed houses are not too much of a surprise.

"The area has blossomed in recent years. It’s become a new population center," said Leslie Barrett, Diamond Valley Lake program manager for the Met. "It’s certainly the right time to be in that area."

But while Barrett and the Met see opportunity, environmentalists fret about the area’s rapid growth, which they claim does not always include needed municipal services. The lake’s attractiveness will only fuel that growth, environmentalists fear.

"Landowners seem to think that there will be a big demand by retirees to settle in the area and that they will be selling homes in L.A. and Orange County to do so," said Gene Frick, of the Sierra Club’s San Gorgonio chapter. "We will get a sprawling housing boom around Diamond Valley Lake."

Originally called Domenigoni Reservoir and later Eastside Reservoir, Diamond Valley Lake is a 4,000-acre water body that cost the Met $2 billion and approximately doubled the agency’s surface water storage in Southern California (see CP&DR, August 1999, March 1993). The lake is known as "off-stream" storage, meaning that it is not located on a river. Instead, water is brought from a number of sources to the lake, which acts like a huge bathtub with dams of differing sizes on three sides. The water agency says it is storing the 800,000 acre-feet of water for use during times of peak demand, droughts and emergencies.

Because of its location in a sensitive area, the reservoir project also included setting aside 9,000 acres of habitat for 16 rare species of animals and plants. The presence of these species in the area is one of the reasons environmentalists are likely to opposed housing developments around the lake.

The lake is located just south of Hemet, a western Riverside County city that has roughly doubled in population to about 63,000 people in fewer than 20 years. Civic and community leaders in the Hemet area believe the lake will attract new residents and, even more so, visitors who will spend money in the area. Indeed, boating, fishing and parking reservations for the lake’s October 3 opening day sold out in only four hours.

The Met is now working on the very things that could attract people to the area — and that could serve local residents, too. "There was a community expectation that recreation development would be a crucial part of Diamond Valley Lake," Barrett said.

The City of Hemet is now processing the Met’s plans for two museums — an archaeology and paleontology museum, and a water education museum. The former will contain some of the discoveries made during the lake’s construction, including dinosaur skeletons. The latter will explain water development, treatment and uses. The city also has under review the Met’s plans for an 85-acre regional sports complex that includes many ball fields and an aquatic center.

Among the facilities the Met wants to build, ironically, is a lake in which people may actually swim. Because Diamond Valley Lake is owned by a water agency, human contact with the water is forbidden by state law. So the Met intends to build an approximately 60-acre lake for swimming and other activities not permitted in the large reservoir. Also under consideration are a campground for recreational vehicles and tents, and a golf course, Barrett said.

The Met also plans to greatly expand the marina so that it has more slips, a restaurant and clubhouse. Work is already under way on a 7-mile-long trail in the hills north of the lake.

"Generally," said Hemet project planner Ron Running, "we’re happy that they are providing the uses that were promised when the lake was proposed. It’s taken some time."

Aside from the recreational facilities, Met officials are working on a master plan for about 750 acres where an early proposal, disclosed last September, called for 1,600 single-family houses, 800 multi-family units, a commercial center and some public facilities. Barrett said planners are still nailing down exactly what to include in the project. The master plan will probably go before the Met board in April or May. Once the board approves the master plan, it will go to the City of Hemet for consideration.

The original Diamond Valley Lake plan and EIR discussed residential development to the east and west of the lake, but not to the north, Barrett said. Thus, the latest proposed urban development would need a new EIR, he said.

Leslie Barrett, Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, (213) 217-6245.
Ron Running, City of Hemet, (909) 765-2375.
Gene Frick, San Gorgonio Chapter, Sierra Club, (909) 684-6203.
Diamond Valley Lake website: