Elkhead project nears completion

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Don't be surprised if bass boats and fishing rods show up on many Christmas wish lists with the Elkhead Reservoir's opening set for summer 2007.

When the final inspection of the outlet works is completed later this month, the construction phase of the expansion project will be officially finished.

Control of Elkhead operations will transfer from Ames construction to the Colorado River District at that time.

"We could fill the reservoir to the old level right now," said Jim Pokrandt, education specialist with the Colorado River District. "Once we have that final inspection, we can fill it to the new brim."

The $31 million project will increase the capacity of the reservoir by 11,750 acre-feet. The project began with planning phases in 2001.

The water level was lowered in December 2004, and construction took place during the next two years.

The new dam's concrete work was completed in September. The dam's height raised 25 feet, and the old dam remains in place.

The water level will rise 20 feet higher than the previous level.

The spillway at the reservoir was completely replaced, and a new outlet works tower was constructed that will allow the reservoir to be drained completely in cases of emergency or extreme draught.

City involvement

Spring runoff is expected to fill the reservoir by summer, and city of Craig water-plant operators will remotely control the valves that release water from Elkhead, as demand requires.

"The fun part begins next spring and summer with the city of Craig taking a role," Pokrandt said. "We're planning a community celebration sometime in the summer."

While the river district is taking care of some of the recreational improvements to Elkhead, including the boat ramp and grading near proposed campgrounds, the city and state parks are spearheading others.

"We're planning $924,000 in improvements with help from Colorado State Parks," Craig city manager Jim Ferree said. "They are paying for a major portion of the work, and they'll have boat ramps and restrooms operational by summer."

The city of Craig will operate all recreational facilities at the reservoir.

Recreational plans include a boat ramp and ski-beach for day use, with picnic tables on the west side of the lake.

A campground will be just north of the day-use site.

The east side of the lake will hold a campground and a day-use area that includes a swim beach.

Farther north on the east side of the lake will be a day-use area with parking and a hand-launch ramp for canoes.

A day parking area will also be west of the dam on Moffat County Road 28.

Construction on some recreation projects is planned for the spring, and final electrical projects are being completed this week at the outlet works tower.

A $200,000 Great Outdoors Colorado grant has been received by the city for the planned recreation projects, and additional GOCo money has been applied for, Ferree said.

The Colorado River Water Conservation District funded a large portion of the expansion project in an effort to provide water for endangered fish species during low water-flow periods.

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