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Draining Martin Lake impacts wildlife minimally

by Carol Dunn

LATHROP- The partial draining of Martin Lake at Lathrop State Park was completed by mid-December.  What’s left behind is about half as much water to supply the same wildlife, particularly fish.  According to area Division of Wildlife Officer Lance Gatlin, Martin Lake is home to a good variety of fish, including bluegill, crappie, pike, bass, catfish, trout and wipers (a hybrid).  Gatlin told the Journal that the DOW was involved from the inception of the plan to draw down the lake.  “When the City of Walsenburg was first planning to repair the dam, they alerted us to it,” he said.  “We put in a coffer dam to maintain a minimum pool of water in the reservoir to salvage the fish, so they’re not lost.” Gatlin described the coffer dam as a man-made impoundment in the reservoir that holds between 10-15 feet of water, the minimum depth to protect the fish from oxygen deprivation and excessively chilled water over winter.  “If we hadn’t been involved from the very beginning,” he added, “the fishery would have been lost.”

    Lathrop’s John Brandstatter told the Journal the area is frequented by mule deer, black bear, piper water fowl and bald eagles.   But it’s the fish that are the most valuable resource to this area.  “The fishing brings in thousands of tourist dollars,” he said.

    A bid has been accepted, the contractor is ready, and the project is basically on hold pending approval of the repair plans by the Colorado Division of Water Resources, Dam Safety branch.  According to Brandstatter, the approval has been pending for months.  All local parties involved would like to have the project completed by April 1 (the beginning of irrigation season), so water can begin flowing back into the lake for storage.  Besides the lagging approval time by Dam Safety, Brandstatter said everyone involved in the process has been “great to work with so far.”   He added, “The City has really stepped up to the plate and been proactive,” and everything has gone well so far.  Once the repairs are done, Dam Safety will need to approve the work before the water can flow back into the lake.

    “We managed the least amount of impact on the fish in the lake,” Gatlin said.  And that’s good news to everyone.