Elkhead reaches milestone

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Calls were made to people living near the Elkhead River telling them to expect high water levels.

But on Wednesday, anyone living downstream from Elkhead Reservoir needed only to look at the river to realize that something was very different.

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At 10 a.m. the valves in the control room at the dam were opened, allowing the water entering the reservoir to flow downstream unobstructed for the first time this spring.

The 1.8 cubic feet per second flow rate jumped to 400 cfs with the opening of the valves. For Lonnie Kawcak, owner of the ranch directly below the dam, the flow level was something he was used to.

"This would be the normal flow if they weren't filling the reservoir," he said. "I don't think it will affect people below the dam very much."

Kawcak said there had always been enough water in the river to meet his ranch's needs, even at the low flow level.

Since spring runoff began, nearly all of the runoff has been trapped behind the recently expanded dam on the reservoir that straddles Moffat and Routt counties.

Reaching the first milestone in the filling process on Wednesday, the water level now stands at the high water mark for the old reservoir before the expansion project began more than two years ago.

The fill plan for the reservoir calls for the filling to hold at this level for one week while measurements are taken at various survey markers and settling points on the dam.

Craig Water Director Mark Sollenberger said the plan dictates step-by-step procedures for filling the reservoir safely.

"The level was rising about 2 feet per day up to this hold level," he said. "We'll shoot the survey markers again next Tuesday and likely begin filling again the next day."

When the level climbs another 20 feet, the fill will hold once again while more readings are taken.

The engineering firm, U.R.S. Corporation, has been involved in the project since its conception, and is involved with taking the readings as the water rises.

Structural Engineer Ted Montoya with the URS Denver office closely monitored adjustments being made on Wednesday.

"Next week will be a balancing act as we adjust the water flowing out to match the water coming in from the melting snow," he said. "Then, in two or three weeks, it all occurs again."

City water department workers have been monitoring the dam and water levels in the reservoir every day for the past few weeks.

On Wednesday, the gates in the tower that control the outflow were checked for leaks and the dam was inspected to see how it reacts to filling it the first time, Montoya said.

Information gathered at the reservoir is forwarded to the state engineer, who has also been involved with the project from the beginning.

At the Kawcak ranch, Lonnie's wife Lorraine looks forward to the filling operations being completed at the reservoir.

"Once it fills, the flow will be more even," she said. "That will keep the banks from eroding."

The city of Craig, Colorado State Parks and the Colorado River Water Conservation Dis--trict plan to open the boat ramps and restrooms for public use by May 1, and an official Grand Opening celebration will take place on July 11, Craig City Manager Jim Ferree said.

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