My Turn: Ice follies on Donner Summit | SierraSun.com

My Turn: Ice follies on Donner Summit

Kathryn Gray

Back before Lakes Serena and Dulzura, up at Donner Summit, were a twinkle in an early subdivider/developer’s eye, they wore the much more prosaic name of “Ice Lakes.”

True to form, every winter they obligingly iced over; for a brief time a commercial ice harvesting operation was carried out on Ice Lakes. These lakes still freeze pretty solid. In colder years, before heavy snow falls, they support ice skating, and winter frolic ” think of a picture painted by Brueghel, or a Currier and Ives print.

How solid do Serena and Dulzura freeze? This year, Sierra Lakes County Water District directed employees to study the depth of freeze, and recent ice core samples have shown that at the channel between the lakes, it’s frozen solid. The channel is 4.5 feet deep, so that’s 4.5 feet of hard, solid ice. The channel at the dam is frozen the same amount as well. Samples taken in the middle of the lake show the same 40 to 50 inches of ice thickness.

What does this mean for winter water supply up at Serene Lakes? Well, the water intake pipe’s top is at a depth of 7 feet. Subtract 4.5 feet from 7 feet, and that leaves only 2.5 feet of available water, approximately 50 acre-feet (AF). Now, mind you, where the lakes are deeper, there’s probably a slight difference in the thickness of the ice, so maybe there’s actually around 75 AF or so of water.

During the icy months of December, January, February, and March. SLCWD currently uses a total of 36 AF, leaving a small reserve of 39 AF below the ice. Royal Gorge LLC would need 48 AF for each of those 4 months for their proposed development, since they should be expecting full occupancy through the ski season. Where will they get that much water?

It is indeed starting to look like the Winter of Discontent for Royal Gorge, as it turns out water up on Donner Summit is even scarcer in the frozen months than it is in Summer. This is one time when Royal Gorge actually might be wanting to “skate on thin ice.”