By: Marissa Markus
Also on May 11th, Frank and I visit Meridian Lake Reservoir near Mount Crested Butte. Frank visits Meridian Lake Reservoir every month to inspect and report the storage amount, percent capacity, seepage, and any net changes in storage. He shares his most recent report from late March when he visited the lake with Water Commissioner, Tom Rozman, so that I have a sense of what I am getting myself into. As an intern, I had no choice but to roll up my pantlegs and cross the icy waters of Washington Gulch to access Meridian Lake Reservoir. Thankfully, Frank crosses first, and he throws me a life line by tossing his trekking poles back for me to use. As you can see in the picture, after we wade the creek, there is still a little snow that we push through to conduct this month’s inspection. Making my way through the creek and snow, up a steep hill and to the water’s edge, I think back to my last visit to Meridian Lake Reservoir in the summer of 2008. At the time, I had had no idea that I was swimming in a dammed lake. Well, I’ll be damned if such a small structure is considered a dam! And although I enjoyed my first swim in the lake back in 2008, I am not eager to take a dip this trip. . . I am there to observe and learn.
Frank informs me that Meridian Lake Reservoir was formed naturally by beaver damming, and then some time in the 1950’s, the Rozman family constructed a little dam to maintain water storage. The lake became a focus for the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District in 1998 because of nearby development and augmentation. Then the 2002/2003 drought exposed the vulnerability of basin water users to senior downstream water rights, and it was time to take action. In 2005, the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District purchased the water rights from the Rozman family in response to the need for an augmentation plan. They rebuilt the dam to current standards, and Meridian Lake Reservoir now serves augmentation needs for junior uses on Washington Gulch, Slate River, and the Upper East River. It was purchased for $750,000, and after 12 years, UGRWCD just achieved cost neutrality. We are very fortunate that the UGRWCD voluntarily took this responsibility upon themselves. A lack of planning by public officials and developers could have left homeowners up a creek without a paddle…. While it continues to serve constituents with affordable water replacement for depletions, it also serves as a popular destination for the recreation and fishing communities. That’s why you’ll find me wading the stream crossing once again this summer.