Fight Breaks Out over the Future of Filthy, Polluted Waters of Almaden Lake

Almaden Lake, one of the filthiest bodies of water in the Bay Area and possibly the state, is steeped in elemental mercury and polluted by blue-green algae blooms and bacteria from bird droppings.

But how to clean up this community cesspool has raised a fair bit of controversy.

The 32-acre, man-made lake lies under purview of the Santa Clara Valley Water District, which faces pressure from the region and the state to remove the water’s methyl mercury deposits leftover from the now-defunct Almaden Quicksilver Mining operations.

The private gravel quarry began excavating at Los Alamitos Creek in the 1940s, gradually transmogrifying a nearby grazing field into a murky 35-foot-deep lake. San Jose took over the spot in 1982, opening it up as a public park for fishing, swimming and pedal boating. But years of pollution have restricted those uses, rendering the only benefit of the lake aesthetic.

“[The] man-made lake that was once a gravel quarry is actually damaging the ecological structure of the area, serving as a heat barrier to cold-water fish migrating upstream to spawn,” the water district notes on its blog.

You can hear Ngoc Nguyen, the Water District’s engineering unit manager, talk about the history of the lake and some options to clean it up in this CreaTV interview.

The district has presented several options to deal with the lake toxicity, which affects plants, fish and birds:

• Drain the lake’s depth to about 10 feet and split the lake in two, with the Los Alamitos Creek channel as a divider.
• Fill in parts of the lake either east or west of the channel and top with grassy fields (maybe soccer fields).
• Fill in the entire lake to make way for several fields (including soccer fields).

District 10 Councilman Johnny Khamis sent out a survey asking constituents which option they’d prefer. A clear majority of the nearly 700 people who’ve responded so far point to the first choice: filling the lake bottom and restoring the creek.

Members of the Lakeview and Park Almaden homeowners associations circulated a petition that recently gathered 1,500 signatures. The petition urges the Water District to steer clear of completely filling the lake and opt for a scenario that preserves as much water as possible.

The HOAs created a Facebook page and website to update the neighborhood about the Almaden Lake project and advocate against the lake-filling option, fearing it would ding property values and dramatically alter the neighborhood by burying one of its defining attractions.

Another reason the lake’s neighbors cite for keeping the reservoir intact is that state firefighters carry water from it to fight fires in the nearby hills.

“It’s an important part of our neighborhood,” says Lisa Burt, who lives in Lakeview Terrace, a development adjacent to the lake. “This is part of why I moved here.”

District engineers are experimenting with oxygenation—pumping air to the bottom of the lake—at the Stevens Creek and Calero reservoirs in hopes of doing the same at Almaden Lake. The oxygenation experiment should come back with results by December, in time for the district to present the data at a February meeting for the public.

Before that date, the public will get a chance to weigh in again at a September meeting at the Almaden Community Center. The exact date will get posted on the Water District blog, and on signs along Almaden Expressway and Coleman Road.

Jennifer Wadsworth is the former news editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.


  1. I thought Almaden Lake is owned by the Santa Clara Valley Water District? They claim to be “good” stewards of the creeks with a focus on clean water and environmental friends of this and that. What happened SCVWD, spend all your money on the $2 million “Golden Gazebo” in Alviso, leaving nothing to clean up Almaden Lake? heck, if this lake is this polluted, I would hate to know how bad your PERC Ponds are! we are better off just using Recycled Water.

  2. I used to live on Almaden Lake Drive, and I always enjoyed the lake.  OK, so its polluted.  We can’t undue what Welsh and Cornish mercury miners did 100 years ago, alas.  So don’t eat the fish…but let the people of Almaden keep their darn lake!

  3. It’s filthy all right. In fact, the lawn areas around Lake Almaden Park were the inspiration for the Beach Boys’ hit song, “Little Goose Poop”!

  4. Gil Hernandez
    65 years ago, my family lived in housing at the corner of Downer and Pearl Ave. Courtesy of William Maybe Farms. We were farm worker. William loved my father, perhaps because my Father could make water run up hill. I inherited his skills, in my metals company, later in life.
    What I am going to share with you if factual and true.
    On Saturdays, my Dad would gather all of the weeks garbage, place it in potato sacks, he would include 2-3 empty gallon jugs.
      Pile a few of us in to his fast back Dodge , and off to the dump we’d go down , Downer Ave (now Blossom Hill). before we crossed the Almaden River, he’d take a left, and come to the south down stream, side of the Almaden, just below the Dam.
      Every one dumped their garbage there, perhaps for many many years. While there Dad would let us rummage around, and then teach us to swim. He would strap a square 5 gallon can to our back and it was the coolest thing you ever saw.
    I recall that there were many very large fish in the deeper part of this hole.
      He never let us take any of our findings home with us. The treasures we encountered were so cool.
      No doubt all of that garbage is still there. Cast iron toys, you name it.
    Off we’d go to The Anthenor Winery on Branham Rd.
      Dad would pull into the long lane, where there were many men drinking a tall glass of wine, and enjoying their stories. he would pull his jugs out of the trunk, and we were free to play with the children of the other men. I still carry that wonderful feeling , I felt then. I felt secure.
      Fast forward, Hank Lopez, my life long friend, and I would ride our bikes to New Almaden 1955. There, 200 yards, where the bridge is at now La Foret.’ We would dig in the riprap below the road leading to the Dam. We would collect many ounces of live mercury place it in a jar, and bring it back, where we would share it with others to coat nickles and dimes. There has to be so much more there now.
    Much of the slag generated by the process was used to build roads, every where. Mercury is now every where
      On one occasion returning back home , the lake above was drained. What we found were thousands of fish in pools every where.
    Lake Almaden may serve as a way to keep all of that Mercury from reaching the Bay. The gravel quarries down stream may well be distributing Mercury where ever that gravel is being sold.
    I love New Almaden. Hank and I made our First Communion there. I have fished all of my life above the Dam for trout.
      There is more , but try chewing on that for a time!
    The Village Black Smith

    • Good stuff VBS. Always fun to hear about life here before the silicon.
      Nowadays they’d throw you in jail if you let your kid ride in the back of a fastback Dodge without a seat belt, swim with a jerry can tied to his back, and handle mercury with his bare hands!

  5. John Galt,
    Isn’t it always that way, that our fondest memories are now illegal. Right of passage was then a sacred trust.
    We made our own Sling Shots, and brought home our catch of the day, for Mom to make a soup.
    Our Mom and Dad, canned every thing that we harvested. Many years after our Mom’s passing we found lug boxes in the shed, with pears, pickles, etc. they were as fresh as the day we picked them.
      We had the best nurturing, of most kids in school.
    In the spring, when the grass was green, we would find cardboards to slide down the steep hill. At the bottom of the hill was a cactus patch. If you did not bail out in time, Mom would have to pick out the cactus needles! At Willow St. Park, we would save our pennies, and go to the ice house, each buy a block of ice. Bike to the park, place a burlap sack on the ice block, and sit a top it and ride it down the hill. If you did not stop in time, your ice block would hit the wall, and break up ending your day of fun as the others continued to slide.
    We made stilts, from fruit tree props.10-12 feet tall.Climb on the garage, and mount the stilts. We saw the guys at the circus do it. At first our landing left us unable to continue, but as we dared, we finaly managed to make it back to the roof of the garage.
      Wow, what great memories!

      The Village Black Smith

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