Eagle County water providers look at Bolts Lake renewal
Possible reservoir a key element of providers’ long-term plans
Bolts Lake hasn’t been a lake for years. It might again hold water, this time for use by water providers in the upper Eagle River Valley.
The Eagle River Water & Sanitation District and the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority — separate political entities with separate governing boards — are looking at a possible plan to create a reservoir on the lake site in Minturn, but just south of much of the town. The plan, if it comes to pass, could take 10 years to complete, at a still-unknown cost.
While the water providers have separate boards, the Eagle River Water & Sanitation District operates and manages authority facilities.
The providers currently have a purchase contract for the lake site with the Battle North LLC, which owns the property, and has for some time envisioned housing near the site.
During the contract period — about 12 months — the district and authority will conduct feasibility studies for the lake.
District Director of Engineering and Water Resources Jason Cowles said that work will include soils testing and other evaluation. If the evaluation provides the right answers, the water providers will buy the site and get to work.
The current idea is to roughly triple the size of the old lake by digging down about 30 feet from the current empty lake bottom. That would keep the size of the new dam reasonable. The old dam was breached in the early 1990s for safety reasons. In addition, digging that much material would provide plenty of clean fill dirt to use for other purposes, including capping tailings from the Eagle Mine.
A near-perfect site
Eagle River Water & Sanitation District General Manager Linn Brooks said if the evaluation bears fruit, Bolts Lake is a nearly-perfect site for a reservoir.
The site is on private land, is the right size and is off the main channel of the Eagle River, Brooks said. The lake would be filled via existing water rights pulled from the river upstream from the lake. Brooks added that the environmental impacts would be minimal.
The fact the site is on private property will make earning needed government permits “much more straightforward,” Brooks said.
The upper valley’s water providers have long been looking for more water storage within the Eagle River basin. The providers get most of their water from streamflows.
The water providers’ master plan — work that has taken years to develop — charts a fairly bleak future in supplying water to current and future users without more conservation and creating more water storage.
Cowles said the possible storage at Bolts Lake is a bit more than double the water available to the providers at the Eagle Park Reservoir near the top of Fremont Pass. Black Lakes, atop Vail Pass, has roughly 475 acre feet available.
Front Range providers need vastly more storage for a vastly larger population. And, Brooks said, Front Range providers basically use water once before sending it down the South Platte River.
Use and re-use
“We get to use and re-use water several times,” Brooks said, noting that water used and treated in Vail is then used and treated in Avon and Edwards before being returned to the Eagle River.
Since the Bolts Lake reservoir wouldn’t take water directly from the river, Brooks said the reservoir would still keep streamflows whole. And, like the providers’ other reservoirs, the water would be used to augment streamflows in the river, which helps river health.
In an email, Tim McGuire of Battle North wrote that the company is excited to work with the water providers on the project.
“Not only will the reservoir provide an essential water resource, it will also allow for the remediation of nearby areas which should lead to improved water quality in the Eagle River.”
McGuire added that the new reservoir would also provide a new recreational amenity for non-motorized activities.
If the water providers go forward with the plan, Brooks said bonded debt will be issued. “That’s the way we pay for all our capacity (projects),” Brooks said.
The project will probably be an expensive one. Cowles said old estimates put the cost between $40 and $50 million. Those numbers are certainly higher today.
Those costs, and a lot more, will come into better focus after the current studies are complete.
• Bolts Lake is in Minturn.
• The lake’s dam was breached in the early 1990s. It holds no water today.
• A possible reservoir at Bolts Lake would hold 1,200 acre feet of water.
• The lake is outside the Eagle Mine Superfund remediation area.