Dam outlet work at Steamboat Lake studied by engineers
Steamboat Springs — A Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman confirmed this week that a team of engineers is assessing damage to the concrete outlet of Willow Creek Dam, which creates Steamboat Lake, in order to make short-term repairs and develop a new, long-term management for the outlet works at the 48-year-old dam.
“We did find some damage to the concrete (outlet) that will require repairs and future monitoring,” Parks and Wildlife’s Mike Porras said. “There are no immediate concerns in terms of public safety. If it ever became unstable, we do have an emergency action plan in place.”
Porras said some temporary repairs might be taken initially.
Steamboat Lake State Park is among the most popular in Colorado’s system of parks, with more than 400,000 visitors annually, most of them compressed into a summer season that doesn’t begin in earnest until Memorial Day. Willow Creek Dam is owned by the state, Porras said.
The inspection of the dam came to the attention of Steamboat Today through a reader who emailed a photograph, taken at considerable distance, of work trucks and what appears to be a small, truck-mounted drilling rig parked on the earthen dam that holds back the 1,100 surface-acre lake.
“What that is, is exploratory equipment gathering some data that engineers will use to build up a plan for the maintenance and rehabilitation of the outlet works,” Porras said.
The engineering study will result in evaluation of the dam and its tower structure as well as the outlet, Porras said.
Dana Miller, dam safety engineer in the Steamboat Springs office of the Colorado Division of Water Resources, confirmed this week that she was aware of the study being undertaken at Willow Creek Dam.
It was in 2008 when Colorado State Parks and the Colorado Division of Wildlife (two separate agencies at the time) spent $400,000 to make repairs to another earthen dam, Lester Creek Dam, which forms Pearl Lake. The lake also happens to be part of Steamboat Lake State Park.
Lester Creek Dam was among 332 in the state that were classified as “high hazard dams” in 2007.
According to the Colorado Dam Safety Program, the hazard rating does not refer to the condition of a given dam but to the potential consequences of a dam failure.
Mike Havens, Colorado State Parks’ dam repair project manager in 2007, said the high hazard designation at Lester Creek did not signify that there was imminent danger of the dam failing.
In the case of Lester Creek Dam, Havens said the work to be done included rehabilitating the “outlet works,” including replacement of the sluice gate, and upgrading the toe drain system, which is designed to channel moisture away from the base of the dam. The toe drain system is used to channel moisture away from the base of the dam before it can destabilize the structure.