MWD extends Lake Skinner lease

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The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California owns land around Lake Skinner which is leased to the Riverside County Regional Park and Open-Space District. The lease arrangement allows recreational activity on the land with the county park district having responsibility for operations and maintenance. The lease agreement was to have expired in 2030, but a Sept. 10 MWD board vote extended that lease through 2049.

The lease covers both the land including Lake Skinner itself, which is used for recreational boating, and land just east of the lake. The extension of the lease will allow the Riverside County Regional Park and Open-Space District to obtain grants for capital improvements.

MWD originally acquired the property surrounding Lake Skinner for the construction of the reservoir and the adjacent treatment plant, and the acquisition of the property around the lake also enhances MWD’s watershed protection abilities. MWD began leasing the Lake Skinner recreation area to the county for secondary use in 1973. Other than the lake itself MWD does not have any facilities within the boundaries of the leased area which includes the shoreline and the land east of the lake as well as the lake. The Riverside County Regional Park and Open-Space District is a dependent special district. The board members are not directly elected – the Riverside County board of supervisors members serve as the board for the district – instead the district is a separate legal district from the agency whose board members vote on district matters. The Riverside County Regional Park and Open-Space District took over responsibility for the lease in 1990. In addition to providing recreation for Southern California residents the lease also relieves MWD of operations and maintenance responsibilities and costs.

To protect the water quality from certain boat fuels, MWD began restricting the types of boat engines allowed in Lake Skinner in 2002. That change required an investment in new boat engines to continue the boat rental activities. The lease was scheduled to be renewed in 2003, and the Riverside County Regional Park and Open-Space District informed MWD that the county likely would not renew the lease. MWD agreed to assist the county parks department with acquiring new engines and also provided other incentives including the elimination of rent payments. A new lease amendment was executed in 2005 and had a 25-year period which extended the term of the lease to 2030. Under that lease the county parks agency agreed to provide security and patrolling functions along with expanded maintenance.

Since 2003 the Riverside County Regional Park and Open-Space District has spent an annual average of $500,000 for capital improvements and operations at Lake Skinner. More than 230,000 visitors patronized the lake during 2018, and the Temecula Balloon and Wine Festival brings approximately 35,000 visitors to the area each year. MWD also holds an annual Solar Cup event in the recreation area, and the county parks agency provides management and staff support.

The improvements during the current lease include repaved roads, replacement of a swimming pool which required high water consumption with a splash pad for young children, turf removal, planting of low-water plants, expansion of the Lake Skinner trail system, sewer upgrades and the construction of an open air amphitheater. The splash pad and trail system also educate visitors about how water is brought to Southern California.

Current and planned capital improvements include paving interior roadways in the campgrounds and parking lots, building a new kiosk and camp restrooms and upgrading irrigation and electrical systems throughout the park. The Riverside County Regional Park and Open-Space District has funded half of the cost of a trails feasibility study to connect Lake Skinner with Diamond Valley Lake. The county parks agency also plans to fund the planning and design of a maintenance building which will be shared with the Southwest Riverside County Multi-Species Reserve.

The California Division of Boating and Waterways requires a 25-year occupancy right for grants. The California Department of Parks and Recreation requires a 30-year occupancy right for its grants. The lease extension is expected to provide up to $12.6 million in noncompetitive grants for future capital improvements. The lease extension will also allow the Riverside County Regional Park and Open-Space District to execute a 30-year concession agreement which will help cover some of the costs for the operations, maintenance and capital improvements.

The lease calls for any net revenues to be reinvested in the Lake Skinner recreation area. Any unused net revenues after the expiration of the lease would be provided to MWD.

Joe Naiman can be reached by email at jnaiman@reedermedia.com.