It’s 2019, Time To Give Big Island Lagoon Back to the People!

by Peter Kilkus

My latest 2019 recommendation below is updated from my original recommendation in 2012 to reverse the arbitrary closure of Big island Lagoon to motorized family recreation. 

This is the least Reclamation can do to help mitigate the significant damage they have done to the Lake Berryessa community, including the stalled revitalization process being negotiated with Napa County. Observation by local residents for many years has shown that non-motorized use of Big Island lagoon varies between zero and none throughout the year.

The subject was never raised at any of the public forums held to date, as was specified in Paragraph 6: Land and Water Use Classification, of the 2006 Record of Decision. I raised it at the last Public Forum meeting held on November 14, 2018.

Drew Lessard, Reclamation Regional Manager, Central California Area Office, agreed to review the issue if I provided an analysis of the situation. Public input to support this recommendation will be very important to rescinding this flawed decision. Please send your comments to:

Drew Lessard, Area Manager, Bureau of Reclamation

7794 Folsom Dam Road, Folsom CA 95630-1799 fax: 916-989-7208

Margaret Bailey, Lake Berryessa Park Manager

5520 Knoxville Road, Napa CA 94558, 707-966-2111, Ext. 0    


Recommendation: Immediately Return Big Island Lagoon to a 5MPH Zone for Family Recreation (2019 Update)

In a highly unpopular move with no real public support, the Bureau of Reclamation arbitrarily closed Big Island Lagoon to motorized recreation almost ten years ago. This area was an historical 5 MPH zone and a heavily-used family recreation gathering spot. It provided a quiet, safe respite from the activity on the main body of the lake.

This action was taken with no public input or evaluation of its effects on lake users. Monitoring of the area for the many years has shown there has been no appreciable use by non-motorized watercraft such as kayaks. This action simply created a wasted recreational resource that had previously been used by hundreds of boaters on a regular basis.

Steele Park Cove (Willi’s Cove) near Steele Park Resort was also designated as a non-motorized zone, but enforcement was never implemented. This lack of enforcement is a precedent for the lack of importance of this type of classification.

The closure of Big Island lagoon was stealth action hidden on a map at the end of the 2006 Record of Decision section excerpted below. This section also implied that no changes would be made until the Public Forum referenced in this same section was created. The subject was never discussed at any of the public forums held to date until November 14, 2018. 

ROD Map non-motorized

2006 Record of Decision: 6. Land and Water Use Classification. (PDF) 

"The WROS is not adopted as part of the VSP ROD. Existing requirements developed in conjunction with Action 17, “Water Surface Zoning and Restrictions,” of the 1993 RAMP ROD are carried forward on an interim basis pending future adoption by Reclamation of the WROS or other land and water use classification system in consultation with the forum established in paragraph 1c. In the interim, certain areas will be reserved for use by non-motorized watercraft and electric trolling motors only. These areas are identified in Appendix B, map number 413-202-8."

1. Recreation Program Management. The following principles and actions will be used to guide and manage recreation activities at Lake Berryessa:

c. Collaboration. Reclamation will sponsor a regular forum with the opportunity for public involvement to promote communication, thoughtful consideration of interests, consistency and uniformity, and constructive resolution of problems or conflicts.


The Water and Land Use Recreation Opportunities Spectrum (WALROS) was approved and adopted by Reclamation in 2009. Its application by the Department of the Interior mandates creating the greatest recreational opportunities possible. All concessions/resorts would maintain the highest level of development in order to serve the public demand. 

The standard for WALROS decision-making incorporates (1) sound professional judgment, (2) preponderance of the evidence, (3) a rule of reasonableness, (4) a sliding scale rule of analysis, and (5) a scale of degree.

Lake Berryessa clearly falls in the category of Rural Developed Setting and Rural Developed Recreation Experience. (See descriptions below.)


Since there was neither public input nor public support for this arbitrary action; there was no statutory authority or other justification for Reclamation’s decision; and the action is in opposition to Reclamation’s stated purpose to support and expand recreation at Lake Berryessa, Big Island Lagoon should immediately return to its historical 5 MPH status in anticipation of the 2019 recreation season.


Physical attributes table LB b&w

Rural developed setting: A rural developed WALROS area is beyond a metropolitan area and the suburban ring of development. Rural developed areas may serve as “bedroom” communities for urban areas and may contain working farms, ranches, and towns. In this setting, primary road networks are common. 

Although development will be prevalent and common, the setting has a pastoral sense because of an interspersing of forests, water resources, hills, valleys, canyons, wetlands, open spaces, and agricultural lands. Naturally appearing shoreline edges are common, although various water controls or other structures are also common. 

Recreation management is prevalent and common but not as extensive as in an urban setting (e.g., personnel, rules, facilities, signs, services, conveniences, security). Recreation use, diversity, socialization, concentration, sense of security, and conveniences are less common than in a developed suburban or urban setting. 

The sights, sounds, and smells of recreation and non-recreation use are common, yet interspersed with locations and times when the urbanized visitor may experience a sense of tranquility and escape from everyday challenges. 

Examples of rural developed areas include areas with country estates, second homes and cabins, dams, power stations, primary and secondary roads, communication lines, resorts, marinas, small communities, full service campgrounds, county and State parks, farms, ranches, and small commercial and industrial establishments.

Rural developed recreation experience: The area provides occasional or periodic opportunities to see, hear, or smell the natural resources (e.g., forests, wildlife, aesthetics), but development, human activity, and natural resource modifications are common and frequently encountered. 

 In a rural-developed area, everyday sights and sounds are also important. Socialization within and outside one’s group is typical, and the presence of other visitors is expected. The opportunity to relieve stress, alter everyday routines, and achieve a moderate level of comfort and convenience along with a sense of safety and security is important. 

The array of recreation activities may be diverse, ranging from relaxation and contemplation (e.g., sunbathing, sailboating, shoreline fishing) to physical exertion and challenge (e.g., competing in shoreline and water sports, tournament fishing, ice fishing, water skiing, snowmobiling, motocross racing, and kayaking). 

The rural developed area is typically attractive for day use by weekend visitors from local metropolitan areas, nearby communities, short-term campers, recreational vehicle users, large groups, and adventure tourists within a day’s drive.                       © Peter Kilkus 2018