Originally Published: July 8, 2018 6:05 a.m.
On the list of Prescott’s lakes, the 8.5-acre Lower Goldwater Lake is often overlooked, hidden as it is among the ponderosa pines on the western edge of the larger upper lake.
But that is likely to change in the coming months, as pretty little Lower Goldwater Lake is poised to come into its own.
During recent budget discussions for the coming fiscal year, the City of Prescott included $70,000 for the design of improvements to Lower Goldwater Lake. The budget received tentative City Council approval this past week.
With that approval, Recreation Services Director Joe Baynes expects his department to advertise for proposals soon and take a recommendation to the City Council sometime this fall.
The resulting design should set the stage for construction of a variety of projects at Lower Goldwater: new restrooms, a ramada, small day-use areas, a fishing trail, and an access road.
That will be a major change for Lower Goldwater, which to date has been mostly closed off to the public. “No-trespassing” signs have long been located along the dirt road that runs north of the lake.
Baynes says the main reason for the closure has been the old water-treatment plant located at the base of the Lower Goldwater dam. The abandoned facility was deemed an “attractive nuisance” because of liability concerns, and the city opted to keep the public away.
But in 2017, city workers took several steps to remove the nuisance.
Public Works Director Craig Dotseth said his department spent about six months — working off and on when time was available — to first raze the three buildings at the site and then fill in the old treatment-plant basins.
Dotseth explained that the plant had been unused since 1987, when the city stopped using the two Goldwater Lakes as a part of its water supply. For decades prior to that, Dotseth said “a very small part” of the city’s water supply came from the lakes.
City officials estimate that the water treatment plant dates back to the 1920s/1930s timeframe — about the time that the dams were built to impound water from Banning Creek, as well as from diversions of other nearby waterways such as Wolf and Groom creeks. The construction of the two dams formed the Goldwater lakes.
After its closure, the old treatment plant became a magnet for vandals, Dotseth said. “Unfortunately, over the last 20 years, numerous people have vandalized the site and broke the windows,” he said. “It definitely was an attractive nuisance. We needed to clean it up.”
Dotseth said Public Works employees first razed the three buildings, and later removed the piping and the concrete basins. Dirt was then hauled in from another city project — the detention basin at Acker Park — to fill in the area and make it level.
Prior to the demolition of the plant, Dotseth said he did an evaluation on whether the lakes and plant could ever be useful again as a city water source. “For the small amount of water that would come from the two lakes versus the cost of refurbishing the treatment plant, it doesn’t balance out,” he said.
In addition, Dotseth pointed out that using the water from the lakes would virtually remove the recreation potential at Goldwater Lake.
“There’s a much higher value in having water in the lakes the entire year,” he said, noting that making the lakes a part of the city’s water supply would mean “there would be no Goldwater Lake.”
As Baynes walked around the lower lake this past week, he pointed to its tranquil beauty. On the calm morning, the towering ponderosas on far other side were reflected in the surface of the lake.
“It’s a quiet little quaint mountain lake,” Baynes said.
He stressed that the city hopes to preserve that. “We want to respect the character of the property, and not overdo it,” he said.
With that in mind, the improvements will be relatively low-impact. A fishing trail will run along the southern lakeshore, allowing for foot traffic, but no vehicular access.
Vehicles will be limited to the northern side, where a dirt road is already in place.
In preparation for the coming improvements, widening work was done on the road, bringing it to a width of about 28 feet. Baynes said a $25,000 federal Regional Advisory Council (RAC) grant helped to pay for the road widening.
The city’s plans include construction of 800 feet of a new one-way road, beginning at about the site of the upper lake’s payment kiosk.
The road will allow drivers to get to the dirt road on the other side — passing by the upper lake first, and ultimately to Lower Goldwater.
The coming improvements are considered to be the first phase, and Baynes said more improvements could be coming in the future. He noted that the 1920s-era operator’s house that currently houses a water department caretaker could be converted in the future to a visitor center.
And eventually, that area around the house could serve as a spot for yurts or platform camping areas, Baynes said.
Even though a recent project at Upper Goldwater Lake increased the parking spaces to more than 200, Baynes said space is still in high demand during busy weekends. Vehicles often overflow down the lake entrance road toward Senator Highway.
About 70 new parking spaces at Lower Goldwater should help alleviate that, Baynes said.