Receding water levels at two Texas lakes have started to affect one county’s own recreation business and prompted complaints and even the threat of legal action from Nacimiento property owners. At the same time, Monterey county’s search for a long-term lakes management deal is in limbo as negotiations appear to have stalled and the contract of Cal Parks, which currently manages the lakes, is just months away from expiring. The lakes’ general manager left earlier this month.

Just a year and a half after winter rains swelled two county-owned reservoirs, water levels at Lakes Nacimiento and San Antonio are already shrinking back to where they were during a four-year drought. The main reasons for the dropping Nacimiento water levels, according to county Water Resources Agency associate hydrologist German Criollo, are a relatively dry winter and conservation releases from the reservoir into the Salinas River.

After increasing to about 90% of capacity in May 2017, Nacimiento’s water level has already sunk to about 27% of capacity and is headed even lower. Nacimiento is expected to drop as low as 701ft or just over 9% of capacity by the end of the year. San Antonio water levels have also dropped about 31ft since July last year after rising some 85ft following last year’s wet winter, Criollo told the Monterey Herald.

Meanwhile, the Nacimiento Regional Water Management Advisory Committee has claimed the county is mismanaging the reservoir to the detriment of lakeside private property owners. They argue the county is lowering water levels so much that many who live around the lake can’t even use their boat launches because they don’t reach the water.

The organisation sent a petition with some 6,000 signatures to the county water agency this spring requesting negotiations over water levels aimed at raising the county’s minimum summertime level from 730ft to 750ft. They recently started a GoFundMe page that has raised nearly $40,000 toward legal fees in anticipation of a potential lawsuit against the county.

Monterey County previously settled a lawsuit by Water World Resorts owner Dan Heath, who owned lakeside resort facilities at both reservoirs and sued over the impact of lower water levels from the Salinas Valley Water Project on his business. The county ultimately paid Heath $22m in 2007 for the resort facilities, which are now managed by the county.

Who will be managing the lakes recreation operation into the future is still in question, however.

After issuing a request for proposals seeking a long-term lakes manager earlier this year, the county is currently considering options on how to move forward. The county has begun negotiations with Cal Parks on a one-year extension of the private company’s current short-term management contract, which expires in October, to allow more time for the county to seek a long-term deal expected to be in the three- to five-year range.