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Lake Nacimiento
Lake Nacimiento 2015.JPG
Lake Nacimiento in 2015
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Location San Luis Obispo County, California
Coordinates 35°44′36″N 120°57′39″W / 35.74345°N 120.96085°W / 35.74345; -120.96085
Lake type reservoir
Primary inflows Nacimiento River
Primary outflows Nacimiento River
Basin countries United States
Max. length 18 mi (29 km)
Surface area 5,400 acres (2,200 ha)
Water volume 377,000 acre⋅ft (465,000,000 m3)

Lake Nacimiento is an 18-mile (29 km) long lake on the Nacimiento River in northern San Luis Obispo County, California. The lake contains many arms including Snake Creek and Dip Creek, nearer the dam, and the central Las Tablas and Franklin Creeks. Because of the dragon-like shape created by the positions of these arms, it is sometimes referred to as Dragon Lake. The lake can fill quickly in the winter from river surges resulting from downpours upstream in the Santa Lucia Range so the level is not usually allowed to capacity until May 1 of each year.


Lake Nacimiento has a low fish population due to the high levels of mercury present in the lake, due to runoff from the closed Klau and Buena Vista Mercury Mines, south of the lake. Only a few fisherman manage to catch fish. Consumption of bass, crappies, carps, and catfish from the lake is dangerous, but blue gill and sucker fish may be eaten only once per week safely. The lake is unique among California reservoirs in that it contains, among other species, introduced white bass, which thrive in the lake and spawn in the river and inflowing creeks in spring. In fact, the world fly fishing record for a white bass was broken in 1981 at Lake Nacimiento. The fish was caught by Cory Wells, a member of the world famous musical group, Three Dog Night. The record stood for over 27 years. Lake Nacimiento can also produce power from a turbine at the base of the dam.

The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has developed a safe eating advisory for Lake Nacimiento based on levels of mercury found in fish caught from this water body.


The lake was originally designed for irrigation water and flood control as well as recreation. Nacimiento Dam, a 210-foot (64 m) earthfill dam, forms the lake. The dam was built by the Monterey County Water Authority under Monterey County District Engineer Loran Bunte Jr, which completed construction in 1956. The water authority uses the lake to recharge its groundwater. Even though the lake is entirely inside San Luis Obispo County, the waters are patrolled by the Monterey County Parks Department under a joint powers agreement with San Luis Obispo County. The Monterey County Parks Department’s primary jurisdiction is the lake waters, up to the high water mark and the resort area. The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office does have a boat at the lake for access to the back country around the lake. Also, they have been known to write tickets on the water. Lake Nacimiento has a capacity of 377,000 acre feet (465,000,000 m3). The lake is near the city of Paso Robles. The lake is also the home of two residential housing developments, which lie on the lake's shore; Heritage Ranch and Oak Shores. There are several smaller (10-40 house) private subdivisions on the south west side of the lake. These houses were affected by the Chimney Fire in August 2016. Except for the resort area near the dam, most of the property around the lake is private. Overnight camping on the lake, outside of the resort, is not allowed. Also, you are considered trespassing if you set up or venture on land above the high water mark.

The lake was developed and paid for by Monterey County. However San Luis Obispo County retained the rights to 17,500 acre feet of water per year. This was not requested by San Luis Obispo County until the mid-2000s. In October 2007, construction started on a pipeline to bring water from the lake to Paso Robles, Templeton, Atascadero, and San Luis Obispo. The project went online in January 2011.

The Lake's dam was shut down during 2014 due to damage that occurred to one of the turbines, and as a result the neighboring Lake San Antonio was emptied to critical levels to supply the Salinas Valley with groundwater.

Lake Nacimiento is also a haven for watersport enthusiasts. The lake provides ample room for waterskiing, wakeboarding, jetskiing, wakesurfing, and other water-related activities.

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