Irvine Lake is currently closed to all water activities, including fishing, with no expectation to open any time soon due to a disagreement between two government agencies. For almost 90 years Irvine Lake was the destination for Orange County fishermen and families seeking outdoor activities but sadly that has come to an end until Orange County and the Serrano Water District (SWD) can come to an agreement on water recreation rights.
Why is Irvine Lake Closed?
In 2014 the Irvine Company handed over their 75 percent controlling interest of the recreational rights of Irvine Lake to Orange County. The Serrano Water District (SWD) owns the other 25 percent. This “gift” unfortunately set off a disagreement between two government agencies who can’t agree on how to split profits from the lake businesses including RV & boat storage, gate fees, fishing and camping. Since both parties have a claim on the water recreation rights they both must agree on how the lake activities are operated.
Since the lake closing in 2016, negotiations would appear to have dragged on for years but really they haven’t because there has been little to no communication between Orange County and SWD. Adding to the problems, at the time of closing, revenue was also decreasing due to two drowning incidents which led to a boat ban and a drought which dropped water levels and reduced lake visitors.
When will Irvine Lake Reopen?
Unfortunately there is no timeline on Irvine Lake reopening. Unless the SWD and the County of Orange can find some common ground and re-start substantive discussions it may be a long time before the community can enjoy all there is to offer from Irvine Lake. Until then it’s a game between children (two government agencies) pointing the blame at one another.
Even if the Serrano and the County of Orange come to an agreement it may be several years before Irvine Lake reopens. At this point the lake area is in a state of disrepair with little infrastructure and deteriorated roads, docks and a cafe.
What is the Disagreement?
SWD has proposed to continue to operate the boating and RV storage plus a share of the annual income from the lake in perpetuity in consideration of their 25% interest in the water recreations rights. SWD has said in the past they would transfer their 25 percent share to the county but in return they have asked for these concessions. The water districts uses this revenue to subsidize water rates for it’s customers.
Orange County has proposed that SWD would keep the revenue from the RV and boat storage for two years but then the county would be granted the SWD’s 25 percent share of recreational water rights. SWD would then pay rent on the 5 acres of RV and boat storage land at the market rate.
Orange County/OC Parks District Position
The county has proposed that Serrano keeps all the revenue from the lot for the first two years of operation following any deal, but that the county would then be allowed to do whatever it wants with the land. Serrano countered that it wants a portion of the lot’s profits in perpetuity.
The reality is nobody knows what the disagreement is anymore since both sides haven’t talked in years. Any quote from an elected official is either rhetoric or from someone who wasn’t involved when the two sides actually did talk.
What Can You Do?
There are a couple of options. First, you vote for candidates that support the Irvine Lake re-opening and don’t vote for the ones that refuse to negotiate. Both the SWD Board of Directors and Orange County Supervisors are elected positions. The second is to write to the SWD and your Orange County District Supervisor to express your thoughts on Irvine Lake.
- 2016 to Present – Negotiations are at a standstill and Irvine Lake remains closed.
- March 1, 2016 – Irvine Lake permanently closed.
- February 28, 2016 – Last day or fishing at Irvine Lake.
- 2016 – Orange County advises SWD that its recreational rights, i.e., lake fishing, would be terminated as of March 31, 2016.
- 2014 – 2106 – Orange County and SWD negotiate unsuccessfully for two years to reach an agreement over Irvine Lake rights.
- 2015 – All boating including rental boats banned following another drowning. Shore fishing only. Increased insurance restrictions/costs were again attributed for the change in policy.
- 2014 – Irvine Company gifts 2,500 acres of land near Anaheim Hills, East Orange and Irvine Regional Park to Orange County, including their 75% of Irvine Lake Rights.
- 2012 – All private boats banned and life jackets required following accidental drownings of two men and a $1.5 million settlement. Increased insurance restrictions/costs were attributed for the change in policy.
How to View Irvine Lake
It’s still possible to take in the views of Irvine Lake through guided tours from Fremont Canyon, Black Star Canyon or at events such as the Irvine Lake Mud Run. However, it is against the law to enter the lake and there are posted signs prohibiting entry. Fremont and Black Star are part of the Irvine Open Space Preserve and these guided tours take you along trails overlooking the lake. Events like the Irvine Lake Mud Run are held at Oak Canyon Park and adjacent parks (Lakeview, Baja Beach, Little Oaks) which are private parks located at 5305 Santiago Canyon Road Silverado, CA 92676. The mud run trails also overlook Irvine Lake.
About Irvine Lake (known as Santiago Creek Reservoir)
Address: 4621 Santiago Canyon Rd., Silverado, CA 92676
The 750 acres Irvine Lake is located at the base of Cleveland National Forest and is the largest body of freshwater in Orange County. It is a man-made lake which can store approximately 28,000 acres of water. Santiago Creek feeds the lake and features a rustic scenery, beautiful mountains, steep rocky cliffs, shallow coves, deep creek channels, submerged high spots and overhanging trees.
In the past Irvine Lake provided an excellent fishing and family park environment. Irvine Lake featured a fully-stocked bait and tackle shop, café, rental boats, private launch, and RV and tent camping. Beyond fishing visitors could hike, mountain bike, picnic and much more. For over 70 years Irvine Lake has been a great fishing and camping location for residents across Southern California. Kids often caught their very first fish at the Kids Lagoon, and scouts and Indian Guides camped on the shore. The lake featured the annual Villa Park Family Picnic, and the site of many reunions, festivals and family outings.
Today, there are still activities near or around Irvine Lake such as the Irvine Lake Mud Run and the Born Free motorcycle event. However, there is no contact allowed with the lake anywhere.
Facilities & Activities at Irvine Lake
- Fishing (fishing license not required)
- Kids Fishing Lagoon
- RV, trailer, and tent camping
- Boat Rentals
- Tackle Shop
- Basketball Court
- Hot showers Restrooms
- Picnic Area
- Play Area
- Water Outlets
Swimming, water-skiing or jet-skis were not allowed. Private boats, kayaks, float tubes and canoes were allowed until the insurance restrictions were put in place. Rental boats and pontoons were available for a time after that until another incident forced the prohibition of all water crafts.
Irvine Lake Fishing
The motto of Irvine Lake was “The Lake That Wants You To Catch Fish” which was true since it was regularly stocked stocked with bass, catfish, crappie, bluegill and sturgeon. The lake was best known as trout fishery but also known for its largemouth bass. Bass were caught all along shore line cover of the lake with wide variety of techniques, lures and plastics. Bait, lures and plastics were all common methods for all fish as well as using an ultra-light line. It was open to day and night fishing for both on-shore and off-shore fishing. Kayakers deemed the lake an excellent fish kayaking spot. Fishing areas included the Santiago Dam, Rocky Point, Sierra Cove, Catfish Cove, West Fork, Santiago Flats, Trout Island, the docks and kids lagoon.
Fish at Irvine Lake
- Catfish (Blue and Channel)
- Largemouth Bass (Northern and Florida)
- Redear Sunfish
- Trout (Rainbow, Brook, Brown and Steelhead)
- Wiper (aka hybrid striped bass or whiterock bass)
Irvine Lake Fishing Records
- Rainbow Trout – 22.6 lbs
- Brown Trout – 12.5 lbs
- Steelhead Trout – 17.0 lbs.
- Channel Catfish – 50 lbs
- Blue Catfish – 89.6 lbs
- Largemouth Bass – 14 lbs 7oz
- Crappie – 4 lbs 2oz
- Bluegill – 2 lbs 4oz
- Sturgeon – 50 lbs
- Red Ear Sunfish – 2 lbs
- Common Carp – 45.02
Irvine Lake Events
In addition to no more fishing there are no longer any events at Irvine Lake.
Previous events at Irvine Lake Included:
- Boogaloo Mountain Jam
- Boy Scouts & Indian Guides Camping
- Coors Drag Racing Championships
- Family Reunions
- Fishing Tournaments
- Grand Prix of Drag Boat
- Irvine Lake Blues Festival
- Motorcycle Madness
- OC Music Festival
- Orange County Beer Fest
- Villa Park Family Picnic
Many of the events still exist but have moved elsewhere such as the Irvine Lake Mud Run and the OC Music Fest which moved to the private venue Oak Canyon Park which is on the eastern side of Irvine Lake.
There was also a water-ski school running illegally for nine years in the late 1990s and early 2000s until it was shutdown. The water district incorrectly believed it was not in violation of state law health codes if the skiers wore wetsuits.
Irvine Lake RV Storage
4621 Santiago Canyon Road
Silverado, CA 92676
Irvine Lake RV storage remains open.
Irvine Lake History
In 1931 the Santiago dam was built on the Santiago creek by the Irvine Company, the Serrano Irrigation District (today know as the Serrano Water District) and the John T. Carpenter Irrigation District. James Irvine furnished the site for the dam and the reservoir Irvine Lake (formerly known as Santiago Reservoir). The lake originally served the agricultural and farming communities surrounding Irvine Lake and was opened to the public for fishing in 1941.
Today, Serrano Water District (SWD) provides potable water to the City of Villa Park and a small portion of the City of Orange. SWD receives its water supply from local surface water which is stored in Irvine Lake and groundwater from three wells located within the City of Villa Park. The Irvine Ranch Water District (IRWD) also uses untreated water from Irvine Lake to supplement its irrigation water and is able to treat water from the lake as part of the Baker Water Treatment Plant project.
Irvine Lake Sky View