Users of McPhee Reservoir's main boat ramp will no longer be able to enjoy the benefits of flush toilets in the coming years. Amid concerns that the restrooms' outdated pumps and aging infrastructure could create problems for the lake, the Forest Service is planning to replace the restrooms with non-flushing vault toilets later this year.
Originally installed nearly 30 years ago when the McPhee dam was constructed, the main boat ramp's restrooms use pumps to transport sewage up a steep hill to a treatment system located at a campground above the lake.
USFS District Ranger Derek Padilla said the pumps' age, combined with recent pumping difficulties, renders replacement of the restrooms a necessity.
"Pumping has not been going well," said Padilla. "The pumps are no longer in production, so when something breaks, it is difficult to repair it. Because of the age of the system, there is potential for a critical failure."
Were a critical failure to occur, there is a chance that raw sewage could find its way to the reservoir.
To avoid such a situation, the Forest Service is planning to install vault toilets similar to those found at many area campgrounds. While the new toilets would not use running water and therefore not be flushable, Padilla is confident that users would not be negatively affected.
"I don't believe that users will see any bad effects," said Padilla. "Every so often, depending on the system, there might be a distasteful odor. For the most part, though, this occurs only on an occasional basis."
Even though the Forest Service does not see any negative effects arising from the new system, some lake users are not convinced.
"When you go the lake and you don't have a nice place to go the bathroom, it's not good," said local fisherman Mike Carver. "It's better to have something that is nice."
"It's kind of disappointing that they would be doing that," said Joe Stevens, a Cortez BassMasters member and avid fisherman. "There are a tremendous number of retired people who use that thing all the time. It's definitely going to affect the older people. For whatever it's worth, it sucks."
Another potentially negative aspect of the project involves the loss of the facility's fish cleaning station. Although the station has not been functional for a few years, many fishermen lament its loss.
"People are going to clean fish down on the boat ramp," said Stevens. "There will be guts in the water and on the ramp."
Many lake users appear to be content with the new setup, however, citing the fact that having restrooms in place, flush or not, is the most important thing.
"Flush toilets are a constant maintenance issue," said Dolores town manager, Ryan Mahoney. "While we would all like to have nice shiny flush toilets, the most important thing is having something in place to keep people from defecating in public."
Although the restrooms at McPhee's main boat ramp currently remain standing, the Forest Service plans to remove them sometime in mid-October. Depending on the weather, the new vault toilets will be installed either in the fall or early spring.
According to Padilla, the project will be use Forest Service funds, as well as funding left over from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.