Life in the Lake

Lake Merritt by Justine tenZeldam.4One thing that attracted me to Oakland when I moved here ten years ago was Lake Merritt. I’d only seen two parts of Oakland up until then, the Lake and the Coliseum. I remember thinking that there couldn’t possibly be any wildlife in the Lake. It had to be polluted, since it was in the middle of one of the “grittiest” cities in America, right?! Well, as I stood at the banks I spotted a small fish. As I stared at the little aquatic creature, about 4 inches in length, I felt hopeful. Life! Then death. A seagull swooped down just then, and gobbled it up in front of me. I had to laugh out loud at that one. I figured then, that the lake was “clean”. Little did I know how much work still needed to be done. It had come a long way since the late 1930’s when oxygen levels were so there were no fish*. Now, I see fish and also clams being eaten by the birds. According to the City, major milestone in Lake improvements recently took place, with the re-opening of a 750-foot section of the Lake Merritt Channel. The removal of the 12th Street dam, culverts and twelve-lane roadway was “one of the premier Measure DD projects” according to a press release on the City’s website. “Since 1869, Lake Merritt has been separated from the channel by man-made structures that altered what was once an open waterway to the San Francisco Bay.”

This appears to be due, in large part, to the fact that voters stepped up. Big time. In November 2002, more than 80 percent of Oakland voters approved Measure DD, a $198 million dollar bond measure to fund water quality and parks projects throughout the city. Of that, $115 million was allocated for Lake Merritt. They also completed a Lake Merritt Master Plan in 2002, right before I got here, so things were underway.

All of this seems to have been a result efforts by the Lake Merritt Institute and their “Clean Lake Program”. In operation since December,1996, their members have been removing 1,000 to 6,000 pounds of trash from the lake each month under a contract with the City of Oakland. And, much of the work is done by volunteers. If you want to get involved, check out their website at email or call 510-238-2290.

For photos I took in February 2014, please see



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