By: Marissa Markus
On May 11th, Frank and I made the scenic road trip from Gunnison to Lake City to tour the natural and picturesque Lake San Cristobal. We looked for the Slumgullion slide that formed Lake San Cristobal about a thousand years ago after the slide blocked off the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River. We drove partially up Slumgullion Pass and stopped at an overlook still splotched with snow. Below us was a breathtaking view of Lake San Cristobal. It seemed peaceful and quiet compared to the hustle and bustle of the summer season. Right now, the reservoir fills from spring runoff. This is crucial to fulfill Lake City’s plan for augmentation.
Lake City has 1999 junior water rights for two municipal wells, but the 2002 drought brought to light the realistic threats a changing climate has on accessing water. The Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District participated in a partnership to install a spillway gate at the historic outlet of the lake. This project was a partnership with Hinsdale County and the town of Lake City. The purpose of the spillway is to control the top three feet of lake storage that can then be used to help augment existing and future wells in Lake Fork Basin. This helps protect users against downstream calls. In addition, it maintains lake levels for uses like recreation and fishing.
Frank and I drove down the pass to take a closer look at the Obermeyer spillway gate. The gate was installed in 2012 and uses an air-filled bladder to raise, lower, and reposition the gate. The appealing thing about this gate is that it doesn’t take away from the aesthetic beauty of the natural lake, which brings recreational tourists and locals alike to explore the lake’s potential. Monte Hanna, with Hinsdale County Road and Bridge Department, helps as we measure the lake height on the staff gage and make minor adjustments to the Obermeyer controls. Frank literally lays on his stomach across a boulder below the spillway gate to get an accurate read on the gage. He’s dedicated. Fortunately, with such dedicative efforts from UGRWCD, Hinsdale County, and the Town of Lake City, this project successfully protects instream flow and minimum lake levels determined by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and augments water for the city, all while maintaining the aesthetic beauty of the lake.