The Ravalli County Commissioners approved a $300,000 loan to Bitterroot Irrigation District to replace two century-year-old control valves in the main outlet of the Lake Como Dam. The dam's north end spillway lets water out of the reservoir during a few weeks in the summer, when the lake is full. The main outlet is under a gatehouse near the south end of the dam (see image above). The huge 6-foot-tall valves are at the bottom of a gatehouse shaft - and they're leaking. Replacing them will cost an estimated $1.3 million, according to BR Irrigation District Manager John Crowley. Part of the cost would be for a coffer dam and a pumping system to remove water from the intake structure during repair work.

With last week's vote by the three commissioners, the district now has a 30-year, no-interest loan that can be used to match state and federal grants to help with the repair project, initially planned for the fall and winter "low lake level" times in late 2020 and early 2021. The 85-foot-tall dam was built between 1908 and 1910, was improved in the 1950s, in the 70s and again in the 90s. The dam and reservoir are both owned by the Bitter Root Project Irrigation District. The dam feeds the 70-mile-long Big Ditch for farm and ranch irrigation on the east side of the Bitterroot Valley. Como Lake is one of the most popular recreation sites in the U.S. Forest Service's Northern Region. Project updates will be on the Bitter Root Irrigation District website.