As students return to campus for winter quarter, an unfamiliar sight has caught the attention of the Stanford community: the glistening waters of the normally dry Lake Lagunita.
Originally constructed in the late 1800s, the man-made lake was once a hot-spot for campus social life, playing host to canoe races and even, once, an alligator prank. In 2001, the University ceased manually filling the reservoir, and several years of drought have left the lake dry year-round.
Over the course of the past two weeks, heavy rains have brought the water level up to at least eight feet. Signs posted around the lake by the University urged students not to step in.
Regardless, the rapidly appearing body of water has drawn a crowd, including some students who entered the lake to kayak or swim. The lake is usually not a social hub on campus, but the spectacle of the lake being filled has led students to congregate on the path surrounding Lake Lag.
Zimin Qian ’26, who usually goes for runs around the lake, said that when she heard about the lake filling up, she had to see it. “This is my first time seeing it, so it’s weird. I like it, though.”
“Normally, there aren’t that many people,” Qian said. She called the new crowds “exciting.”
Visitors of all ages came to check out the change in scenery. Florence Thiry and Antoine Falisse took their daughter to visit the lake for the first time after hearing the news.
“It’s quite unusual because it’s usually so dry here,” said Falisse, a postdoctoral researcher. “So it’s a big change. It’s nice scenery.”
Due to the muddy conditions, hiking buddies Pat Johnson and Katie Bramlett decided to forgo their typical trails for a loop around Lag.
“It looks so much more alive,” Johnson said. “It’s beautiful, and it’s nice that Stanford shares that beautiful space.”
For Bramlett, who grew up in Palo Alto, the sight brings back memories.
“When I was a girl, it had water even in the summer,” Bramlett said. “There were big, permanent raft docks that people would swim out to, and it was so much fun. And gosh, I haven’t seen it like this in a while. It’s great.”
Despite warning signs surrounding the lake, as well as a University email asking students to “refrain from entering standing water for your health and safety,” some students have been seen swimming, floating or rafting in the lake.
According to University administrators in 2017, when another period of heavy rainfall led the lake to fill, swimming in the lake could put swimmers at risk for ‘swimmer’s itch,’ a skin rash caused by a microscopic parasite, and also threaten salamander eggs and larvae.
It remains to be seen how long the water will last; with another wet week forecasted to come, Stanford’s very own lake may stick around for a while.