Add “houseboats” to the growing list of drought casualties.
Within days, a flotilla of about 60 houseboats is expected to begin snaking from its decades-old home at Don Pedro Reservoir’s north end, which soon will be too shallow for big watercraft. A three-hour tour will lead to unfamiliar surroundings at the reservoir’s south end, joining some 200 others for what promises to be a big party – or the start of a cramped, chaotic summer at a lake accustomed to welcoming a half-million people a year.
The headache will worsen this morning as consultants unveil a study comparing houseboat mooring rates to those charged elsewhere. Dornbusch Associates will suggest eventual fee hikes of up to 68 percent, depending on location and boat type at the lake 40 miles east of Modesto.
Previous proposals to jack up rates brought bitter opposition from owners, some of whom recalled monthly rates as low as $45 in decades past and whose strident objections persuaded the reservoir’s board of control to table the idea in December 2012. Forever Resorts, which operates the lake’s two marinas, says it spent $2.2 million on improvements with no more income. It won a partial increase of up to 31 percent four months later as the board also decided to hire a neutral expert to suggest fair prices.
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Dornbusch studied services and rates charged at eight comparable marinas: five in the Valley, including those at nearby McClure and New Melones and also Lake Camanche plus one in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and two at Lake Shasta. The company noted that Don Pedro is unique because it accommodates larger houseboats than elsewhere and based recommendations on square footage comparisons rather than more common linear measurements.
The company found that McClure’s rates are far too low. Even so, the average price suggests that Forever Resorts should boost Don Pedro’s monthly rates from:
• $258 to $434 for buoys at the Don Pedro Reservoir southern marina near Fleming Meadows, and to $370 at the northern Moccasin Point marina
• $298 to $448 for slips accommodating houseboats up to 20 feet at Moccasin Point
• $391 to $529 for houseboat slips larger than 20 feet at Moccasin Point
• $525 to $646 for slips at the southern marina
The three board members, one each from the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts and San Francisco, will review the study but are not scheduled to take action today.
More immediate attention will be required to relocate Moccasin Point’s houseboats and marina. They haven’t had to take such drastic action, owners say, since 1992, when low water forced a move of a couple of miles to the emergency Harney Lane mooring site off Jacksonville Road.
But Harney Lane soon won’t be deep enough, the Don Pedro Recreation Agency said, as the irrigation season ramps up for MID and TID, corresponding with a drop in lake elevation. Neither will the next designated spot at Six Bit Gulch. Rather than moving three times, they’ll go straight to Fleming Meadows, about 26 miles as the bass swims.
“It’s terribly inconvenient for owners,” said Paul Campbell, the MID board’s representative to the agency.
The irrigation districts and San Francisco, a New Don Pedro Dam part-owner, recently agreed to relieve Forever Resorts of its obligation to run the northern marina. Because it’s too big to fit under bridges on its journey south, the marina will be split in at least two pieces and towed away, but will not be reassembled this year.
“We all understand the drought and low water,” said houseboat owner Bob Lynar. “What we don’t understand is the unbelievably poor planning.”
Campbell said, “They’re going to have to do some planning for the future, to mitigate the next time something like this happens. The drought is bad for everyone in lots of different ways.”