Lake Sutherland is located about 10 miles northeast of downtown Ramona. The reservoir is surrounded by Indian reservations and National Forest land, preserving the calm beauty of the desert.
Relatively isolated for San Diego County, the lake offers anglers good numbers of bass on a decent day, big crappie, and the chance to catch a red-ear sunfish in the three-plus-pound range, all with no traffic noise or housing developments to block the view. Standing behind Lake Sutherland Dam is Corral Mountain.
When visiting Lake Sutherland recently, I brought my photo camera, as well as a small multi-copter, equipped with a tiny video camera, to capture a fly-over Lake Sutherland Dam.
Short multi-copter video, flying over a small part of the lake
Construction began on the dam over Santa Ysabel Creek in 1927, but was halted in 1928 only to be completed 26 years later in 1953, after funding was secured and all water disputes were resolved.
When full, the reservoir has 556.8 surface acres, a maximum water depth of 145 feet, and 5.25 shoreline miles. Sutherland Reservoir has a water storage capacity of 29,508 acre feet.
Sutherland Dam is the last of the multiple-arched dams built in the county and when construction started again in 1952, work picked up where it left off. Concrete had been poured for nine of the 17 arches. The arches rise 161 high and are 10 feet thick at the base and 40 inches at the top. The dam measures 1,240 feet from side to side.
During the second phase of construction, pipelines were added, to direct the water flow through Ramona to San Vicente Reservoir in Lakeside, which is operated by the City of San Diego. In 1964, the Ramona Municipal Water District signed an agreement with the City of San Diego to purchase a specific amount of water annually to be taken from the Lake Sutherland pipeline, passing through Santa Maria Valley. And in 1990, when a 13-foot section of a pipeline burst that feeds water from the Poway into the Ramona Municipal Water District, Ramona relied completely on Lake Sutherland for all of its water.
Historic Landmark – Black Canyon Road Bridge
Starting at the dam, walking about two miles down the dirt road, brings you to the intersection of Black Canyon Road and Sutherland Dam Road and the historic Black Canyon Road Bridge, built in 1913 and one of a few remaining three-hinged arch structures, now considered to be a local historic landmark.
While still open for non-motorized traffic at all times, the bridge began to deteriorate decades ago and was downgraded to a status of “structurally deficient”. Since Black Canyon Road is the only road to town for the remote Mesa Grande Reservation, a new bridge was constructed right next to the old one. After some construction challenges, the new two-span, 175-ft-long bridge was opened in fall of 2012.