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Boaters, anglers concerned with reservoir expansion

Josh Nichols

Boaters and anglers at Elkhead Reservoir will probably have to find a new recreation spot for a few years beginning in 2004, experts told members of the Yampa River Basin Partnership Thursday night.

“We’re working on getting information to assess the impacts of the enlargement,” said Ray Tenney, hydrologist with the Colorado River Water Conservation District. “In the spring of 2004 we hope to be in the position to begin construction.”

Experts are trying to move forward with the plans to expand Elkhead Reservoir for water storage purposes, an idea that has been a topic of discussion for nearly 10 years.

“This year the need for water has really been hammered home,” said Moffat County Commissioner Les Hampton, chairman of the Yampa River Basin Partnership. “Nobody will be happy to lose the recreation facility but it’s needed to upgrade the reservoir.”

The plan is to raise the water level of the reservoir by 15 feet, or about 8,500 acre feet, Tenney said.

One acre foot equals 300,000 gallons of water.

Currently the reservoir is at about 13,000 acre feet, meaning the project would increase Elkhead by about 50 percent.

Before the project can begin, agreements must be worked out with the city, power companies, Colorado Division of Wildlife and property owners in the area, said Dan Birch, project manager for the river district.

While the reservoir will have to be drained significantly, it won’t have to be drained completely, he said.

“We’ll be able to keep water in the reservoir but it won’t be open to the public for two or three years,” he said.

But it will be worth it, he said.

“When we get finished we’ll have a much improved recreation facility,” he said.

In addition to working out plans with local entities, the City of Craig Parks and Recreation Master plan and a lake management plan that governs Elkhead reservoir will also have to be considered, Tenney said.

“We’re going to spend the rest of 2002 and 2003 getting permitting,” he said. “There’s a lot of details to work out.”

Hampton said increasing Elkhead Reservoir was the right approach to increasing water storage.

“With the environmental concerns that we have today it’s almost impossible to build a new facility but it’s easier to upgrade a current facility,” he said.

Hampton also said a local organization, the Yampa Valley Bass Masters, was the group responsible for coming forward and saying that the reservoir should not be completely drained for construction.

“The Yampa Valley Bass Masters have a feel for what the fish population is in this lake,” he said. The Bass Masters are concerned that the reservoir expansion could harm the many fish who habitate there.

For that reason, water will be left in the reservoir for the extent of the project, which is expected to take two to three years.


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