Water level restricted in Basalt’s Lake Christine for safety concerns

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
The low water level in Lake Christine exposes the bottom of the reservoir and keeps a fishing pier high and dry. The state is determining how high the water level can go without saturating an adjacent hillside.
Scott Condon/The Aspen Times |

The Colorado Division of Water Resources plans to place restrictions this month on the amount of water that can be put into Lake Christine, a reservoir outside Basalt.

Bill McCormick, chief of dam safety for the water resources division, said the agency worked with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the reservoir owner, to determine the source of water that was saturating a hillside beneath the reservoir and above Two Rivers Road. The water isn’t leaking from the dam, he said, but water is saturating the hillside when the reservoir is full.

“It’s not a dam-safety issue, but it is a public-safety issue,” McCormick said.

The hillside got so saturated the weekend of April 18 and 19 that mud and debris sloughed onto Two Rivers Road. The town of Basalt had to use heavy equipment to remove the debris. The water resources division and wildlife division came up with a plan to determine the source of the water. Lake Christine’s water level was lowered and increased throughout the summer to gauge the effect on the seepage, according to Perry Will, area wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. He said Basalt Mountain is riddled with natural springs, including some in the area of Lake Christine. The springs continued flowing even when the reservoir was at its lowest level, he said.

“The dam is fine,” McCormick said. The test established that water seeps into the surrounding terrain when water is above a certain level. That makes the hillside unstable and creates the potential for slides that could endanger people traveling on the road below, McCormick said.

The water resources division hasn’t established yet what level of water is allowable in Lake Christine. The seepage appears to occur when the reservoir’s water level is above 9 feet, or about 10 acre-feet, according to Erin Gleason, a dam safety engineer in Glenwood Springs for the Division of Water Resources. The normal storage when full is about 15 feet high and 30 acre-feet, she said.

The division needs to collect more information before formally issuing the water restriction, Gleason said.

Will said the wildlife division would like to fill the reservoir high enough to maintain the fishery. He said it is possible that work could be performed to “seal up” a portion of the reservoir with an impermeable material so it isn’t affecting the springs. If the engineers think the work could be accomplished without spending a lot of money, it will be pursued, he said.

“We’re not going to spend a lot of money on that lake,” Will said, noting that more than $1 million was spent a few years ago to repair the dam and rehabilitate the lake.

Lake Christine has been besieged with problems since 2000. A culvert that releases water from the reservoir got clogged with debris that year. Water overtopped and damaged the dam, triggering a mudslide onto Two Rivers Road.

Lake Christine was more wetlands than a reservoir for the following seven years. Colorado Parks and Wildlife was on the fence on whether to spend funds to make the dam safe. Basalt officials lobbied hard for the project and received the backing of Russell George, former head of the wildlife division. The agency allocated $1.8 million to fix the dam, create a new spillway, dredge the lake and expand its boundaries. A grand opening celebrated the new and improved lake in June 2008. The work expanded the surface area by about an acre.

The lake is popular with anglers because it is one of the few catch-and-keep waterways in the area. Colorado Parks and Wildlife regularly stocked it with rainbow trout.

The lake also was important wildlife habitat and an outdoor classroom used by the Roaring Fork Conservancy to teach children about wetlands ecosystems. The wildlife division installed some interpretative signs around the spruced-up lake. Eagle Scout Marshall Murphy created a walking path and constructed a fishing pier into the lake in spring 2011. The pier is high and dry for now because the water is essentially drained. There is hope that the reservoir will once again be more of a lake once the water resources division establishes the allowable water level.


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