Ice Lake to get improvements

Ice Lake will be getting a new outlet and spillway after the Upper Arkansas Water Conservancy District board of directors approved the project during its monthly meeting in Salida.

Conservancy district Projects Manager Gracy Goodwin updated the board on an ongoing grant-funded project at the historic Buena Vista lake and reported on the deteriorated state of the existing outlet structure and spillway.

Goodwin said the estimated cost for the project is $30,000 and that $6,500 remaining from the grant could be used. The rest of the cost would be split between the Upper Ark District and the Lakeside Estates Preserve Homeowners Association, which owns the reservoir.

The conservancy district has been formally working with the HOA since January 2018, when the two parties entered into an agreement that prevented the likely demise of historic lake. As part of the agreement, the Upper Ark District receives 18-25 acre-feet of water per year and drought-year water storage in the lake.

The new infrastructure will provide long-term benefits to the district, Goodwin said, including:

  • Providing control of water releases for much improved reservoir operations.
  • Eliminating the need for frequent repairs.
  • Ensuring the dam will withstand a 100-year flood event.
  • Preventing water-rights calls on lower Cottonwood Creek through enhanced reservoir operations.

Goodwin indicated that the project can move forward as soon as the Colorado Dam Safety Office issues a determination as to the “jurisdictional” status of the Ice Lake dam.

Engineer Chris Manera cited the state’s three criteria for determining whether jurisdictional status applies:

  • Height greater than 10 feet to the spillway crest.
  • More than 100 acre-feet of water in the reservoir.
  • More than 20 surface acres at the high waterline.

Ice Lake’s surface area, approximately 30 acres, triggered the jurisdictional review, Manera said, and the jurisdictional status will determine spillway design standards.

Workers extract blocks of ice from Ice Lake for use in keeping Buena Vista’s lettuce crops cool during transport across the country by rail (courtesy photo).

Ice Lake was once used to supply the ice needed to ship Buena Vista’s famous lettuce crops to market via railroad, an indication of the lake’s appropriation date – i.e., the date at which the lake’s water was put to beneficial use.

But while the manmade lake has been a Buena Vista icon since the late 1800s, the lake’s water rights weren’t adjudicated in Water Court until 1942.

With such a recent or “junior” Water Court decree, the owners of the lake have seldom had a legal right to retain water in the lake.

Like all reservoirs, Ice Lake loses water through evaporation. Colorado water law requires those evaporative water losses to be replaced so that owners of senior water rights are not injured by the loss of that water.

Through its agreement with the HOA, the Upper Ark District replaces those water losses, keeping Ice Lake in compliance with Colorado water law and preventing it from being drained.

Joe Stone