Independent Lake Access

Controversy over Access to Independence Lake

The Prospect received a press release from Friends of Independence Lake, which readers will find below.

On receiving the pr we contacted NV Energy for a response, and contacted The Nature Conservancy, who is purchasing the lake and 2300 acres from NV E.

The Nature Conservancy spokesperson could not comment on the press release, but did explain that when the transfer is complete public access will be an important part of the project. 

NV Energy, or the old Sierra Pacific Power, has, in the past, been fairly liberal in allowing people to use the lake.  The bed of  the lake is already owned by the public; the lake has been designated a "navigable water".

The spokesperson for NV Energy said the following:
Access to the lake was limited last summer for safety reasons because of a fuel reduction project. Contractors operating heavy equipment were removing dead trees and thinning other vegetation to reduce the potential for wildfires. Fisherman were able to walk to the lake from a parking area about a half mile away. It’s my understanding that once The Nature Conservancy has acquired the lake property, and that’s expected to occur early this summer, the public will have access to the lake.  –Karl Walquist  Corporate Communications

However, Friends of Independence Lake insist there was no access from the parking area, and indeed a caretaker prevented the public from using the lake.  Indeed, there was a sign declaring a county road closed by NV Energy, and according to some reports, staff were instructed to prevent access.  The "removing dead trees" and so on scarcely justified the closure of 2300 acres for two months. 

Whoever is in control of the lake this year, NVE or TNC, it will take a local effort to make sure that last year's "thinning" doesn't close the lake again.  Further, the stated intention of The Nature Conservancy is to preserve the land for everyone.  If their plan calls for severely constraining use of the lake, it will be time to start complaining up the food chain to the funder, and the U.S. Government.

Here is the information from Friends of Independent Lake:

Did anyone try to access Independence Lake in 2009?  Owned and operated by Sierra Pacific Power, it is now in escrow with The Nature Conservancy.  Last year, after over 80 years of access by multiple generations of the public, Sierra Pacific Power blocked public access to Independence Lake.


Located near Jackson Meadows in the Sierra Nevada, Independence Lake is about the size and shape of Donner Lake.  It is surrounded by 2200 acres of private land located in both Nevada and Sierra counties.  It has been used for fishing, camping, and recreation for many generations of Sierra County and Nevada County residents, including our families.   We have fished via the shore and motorized boats, we have hiked the surrounding hills, and we have camped its gorgeous shoreline.  With months of extensive research, we believe Sierra Pacific Power has illegally closed public access to the lake and now The Nature Conservancy is intending to severely limit access.


Our research has exposed several compelling reasons that our rights have been violated:

1)    Prescriptive Rights – the lake has been used by the public with public access for motorized vehicles and boats for over 80 years.

2)    Navigable Waters:  Independence Lake was determined to be a navigable water in multiple documents including an assessment by the State of California.

3)    The Public Trust Doctrine:  This allows for public access of navigable waters.

4)    Fish and Game Codes:  Code 5943 requires allowance of public access to Independence Lake because there is a dam on the lake.

5)    Recorded Documents:  A set of documents recorded in Nevada County May 14, 1976 indicates that the bed of Independence Lake is owned by the State of California.  As such, these documents enforce the navigable waters and public trust issues as above.

6)    Public Easements:  The road into Independence Lake is owned by Sierra County.  This is a public easement right to access Independence Lake.  This road has a “dedication” which means that it was for use as access to a public recreation area.


We have written to two grant entities the Nature Conservancy applied to for grant funding to complete the purchase of Independence Lake, and we have opposed their issuance of funding.  To date, we believe that these two grants were awarded:  State of California monies are being used to deny us access – OUR own tax funds are being used to limit access to a beautiful place of recreation.  We understand that the Nature Conservancy has secured $7 million from the State of California which has issued an “IOU” to the Nature Conservancy and $9 million from the Federal Government.  Again, this means that our own tax dollars are being used to limit access.  As we understand it, The Nature Conservancy intends to severely limit public access and deny any motorized vehicles and boats to the lake.  Not only does this appear to violate our rights, it would be a hardship and possibly discrimination, to the disabled and families.


This issue has not been publicized.  While there are those of us who are aware of the fight for Independence Lake and who have been pursuing avenues to right what we believe to be the wrong of closing access, the public deserves to know what is going on in their backyard.  We implore your newspaper to publish this letter and also to start an investigation into what is happening with our open, public spaces – specifically Independence Lake – and public funds.  We want to keep our opportunities to fish, boat, camp, and hike this beautiful lake. 


The Friends of Independence Lake

More can be found on The Nature Conservancy Project HERE


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