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Another chapter in Elkhead’s history

Dam to be dedicated today, adding to the reservoir's 40-year past

Dan Olsen
April 2006
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Fast facts

Elkhead Dam

• First built in 1974

• Raised 25 feet to 105 feet tall in 2007

• Two-year expansion project cost $31 million

• Water storage increased by 11,750 acre-feet

Elkhead Reservoir

• The expansion project raised the water level by 20 feet

• It also increased water capacity to 25,000 acre-feet

If you go

What: Elkhead Dam Dedication

Where: West boat ramp

When: 4:30 p.m. today

Why: Celebrate completion of $31 million expansion project

Fast facts

Elkhead Dam

• First built in 1974

• Raised 25 feet to 105 feet tall in 2007

• Two-year expansion project cost $31 million

• Water storage increased by 11,750 acre-feet

Elkhead Reservoir

• The expansion project raised the water level by 20 feet

• It also increased water capacity to 25,000 acre-feet

— The beginning.

As far back as 1967, the Colorado Division of Wildlife was seeking a place for water-based recreation.

The dam on Elkhead Creek seemed an ideal location.

For the cost of a fairly small dam, water could be captured creating a reservoir that would supply anglers with “80,000 fish each year,” according to a 1967 newspaper article.

Land 10 miles northeast of Craig was purchased in 1970 and 1971 for $200,000.

The Water Resources Division became involved when it was realized that a reservoir above Craig would need to meet 100-year flood plan requirements, and an additional $180,000 was needed.

By 1972, the state legislature authorized $55,000 for site development.

This is a short look at the initial chapters in the history of what became Elkhead Dam and Reservoir.

Another chapter will be added today, beginning at 4:30 p.m., during a dedication ceremony celebrating a recently completed $31 million expansion project.

Save the Dam

In March of 1973, the project was almost scrapped. It was saved largely by the efforts of Craig men John Sherman and Del Findley, who made a trip to Denver to lobby on behalf of the project.

Meeting with state Sen. Fay DeBerard and state Rep. Wad Hinman, the two asked the politicians to save the lake from becoming a “small pond.”

Early in the negotiations, Colorado-Ute Electric proposed doubling the size of the reservoir to accommodate a proposed steam generating power plant to be constructed in Craig.

The Northwest Colorado Daily Press noted the approval of the reservoir by the state senate appropriations committee on April 20, 1973. The committee also allocated $87,600 toward construction of the 80-foot dam.

The besieged and embattled Elkhead project survived a round of budget cuts the next month while questions still remained about whether the lake would be run by the wildlife division or state parks.

The Craig Empire-Courier announced the completion of Elkhead Dam on May 14, 1975, with the captured water creating “Lake Zato,” a short-lived name.

The city of Craig purchased the reservoir in 1990, and turned over management of the recreation to Colorado State Parks in 1998.

Expansion

The reservoir was drained in December 2004, to begin work on the recent expansion project, doubling the size of the lake.

Cooperation between the Colorado River District, the Upper Colorado River Endangered Species Recovery Program, the city of Craig, Colorado Department of Natural Resources and the Craig Station power plant made the project a reality.

Construction on the dam was completed September 21, 2006, with Ames Construction workers beginning a second shift in August and working 20 hours each day, six days a week.

The project raised the water level 20 feet, doubling the capacity to 25,550 acre-feet.

An acre-foot of water is about 360,000 gallons, or enough to supply two average households for a year.


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