State to drain, expedite repairs at Cave Creek Dam near Ely

October 27, 2021 GMT

RENO, Nev. (AP) — State officials have decided to close and fully drain a reservoir in eastern Nevada to expedite repairs and eliminate potentially dangerous conditions at the 89-year-old Cave Creek Dam sooner than originally was planned over several seasons.

Cave Lake will be closed to visitors when the draining begins in late October or early November, the Nevada Department of Wildlife said Wednesday.

Engineers originally planned to maintain a minimum pool that would allow repairs to the 83-foot (25-meter) tall dam be done without draining the White Pine County lake near the Utah line.

The new approach will reduce dangers for contractors working in high-risk elements, allow the project to be completed potentially in one season and reduce potential for unforeseen complications, providing a substantial cost savings, NDOW officials said.

“Draining the lake is the safest, fastest and most cost-efficient way to ensure all Nevadans and visitors can continue to enjoy the recreational benefits that Cave Lake State Park has to offer in the near future,” NDOW chief engineer Rodd Lighthouse said.

An Associated Press investigation published in 2019 identified the dam as one of at least 1,680 dams nationwide in poor or unsatisfactory condition and rated as high-hazard because of the potential for loss of life if they failed.

A state inspection in June 2018 rated its condition “poor,” noting the spillway may be undersized and that the “spillway capacity may need to be increased to safely pass large storm events.”

It also noted the dam lacks a low-level outlet necessary to draw down water in an emergency, recommended installation of a seepage collection system to monitor water flows from seepage areas and warning or danger signs to promote public safety.

State engineers completed initial repairs in January 2020 after identifying sources of concerns about the aging structure’s ability to handle a big storm event. They also discovered a small whirlpool that creates a vortex under current flows that could be unsafe to swimmers and boaters.

Lighthouse said Wednesday the rehabilitation project includes enhancing the overall stability of the dam with an expanded spillway, increased stormwater storage capacity and other necessary long-term improvements.

Before and during the controlled draw down of Cave Lake, NDOW will conduct a fish salvage to relocate the lake’s fish to Comins Lake where the Rotary Club of Ely’s Annual Ice Fishing Derby will be held in February 2022.