Gates installed in the spring to stop nighttime vandalism at New Melones Reservoir have paid off for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

The signs and semi-automatic gates, which close and lock in the evening, were put in to limit vandalism at the reservoir. Installed at the Tuttletown and Glory Hole entry stations, the gates cost about $20,000. But so far the bureau has saved that amount in property-damage prevention alone.

Damage from vandalism this year to date was estimated at $27,000, compared to last year's total of close to $50,000.

Peggi Brooks, resource manager for New Melones, yesterday discussed the figures at a meeting held to update Angels Camp and Calaveras County officials on what's going on at the reservoir. The meeting was designed to open the line of communication between the different agencies.

Chief Park Ranger Paul Barney told participants that in the past, vandals would destroy "anything they could get their hands on" including bathrooms, docks and telephone booths.

But with the gates, he said, "we're not getting as much of the hard-core, expensive damage."

But this year to date there have been 85 acts of vandalism up from about 55 last year.

Barney said the increase in incidents is because the bureau has stepped up law enforcement this year and rangers write up more incident reports. Laws have been enforced year-round in 2003 as opposed to only from April until late September in previous years.

The bureau, which manages the reservoir, reported 235 incidents at the lake as of Dec. 3. Eight were "serious," such as assaults and car thefts, while 107 were "minor."

For the serious crimes, the Calaveras and Tuolumne sheriff's departments are called in.

Minor incidents, such as not paying for a campsite or abiding by fire rules, are handled by rangers.

There were also 35 cases of trespassing, which Barney said usually happens because people are not aware that they are breaking a rule, such as driving on roads that are off limits, or grazing cattle on a portion of the bureau's 16,000 Melones acres.