After 15 years of planning, the Elkhead Reservoir expansion project finally is ready for construction.
The Colorado River Water Conservation District has begun drawing down the water level of the reservoir in preparation for the expansion. The draw down should take two months.
Depending on weather conditions, construction could begin by March, said Conservation District Spokesperson Chris Treese. People living near Elkhead likely will see large earthmovers and other construction equipment transported to the reservoir at that time.
The reservoir and surrounding state park is closed to the public because of unsafe ice conditions. It will remain closed during construction and will reopen when the project is completed in the spring of 2007.
The expansion will increase the reservoir's capacity by 12,000 acre-feet. An acre-foot is equal to 300,000 cubic feet of water.
Water is being released at a rate of 150 cubic feet per second. The release has raised Elkhead Creek by about 1.5 feet downstream of the reservoir, but the creek is flowing substantially lower than it does during a typical spring.
To maintain the reservoir's fishery, the conservation district is constructing a secondary dam in the reservoir.
But inevitably, some fish will be lost, Treese said. The reservoir will be restocked when the project is finished, he said.
The enlargement of Elkhead Reservoir is a cooperative project designed to provide additional water for the recovery of endangered fish in the Yampa River and permit human development of the region's water resources.
The enlargement project, expected to cost about $21 million, is a partnership of the Colorado River Water Conservation District, the city of Craig, the Craig Station Power Plant, the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program and Colorado State Parks.