Dam at Steamboat Lake undergoes repairs, most of state park unaffected

 The Sage Flats day-use area near Willow Creek Dam at Steamboat Lake State Park will be closed during a year-long construction project to update and refurbish dam infrastructure. The rest of the state park will be unaffected, although anglers may notice fluctuating lake levels.

— The popular Steamboat Lake State Park campgrounds won’t be affected by a year-long construction project to upgrade and repair the outlet to 50-year-old Willow Creek Dam, which holds back the 1,100-acre lake.

The earthen dam is owned by the state of Colorado and overseen by the Colorado Division of Water Resources and Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The work, which begins this spring, will involve upgrading and repairing the tower outlet infrastructure as well as installing a new monitoring and control system.

As a result of the construction, the Sage Flats day-use area, with parking near the dam, will be closed during construction, and park visitors are being asked to comply with signage asking them to avoid the area.

“We understand this may be an inconvenience for anglers that enjoy Sage Flats, but the repairs are necessary to maintain dam safety,” park manager Julie Arington said. “In the meantime, there are many other places to fish here. People can stop by the visitor center for more information about alternatives available to them.”

“The integrity of the dam’s structure remains solid, and there is no danger to nearby residents,” Colorado dam operation engineer John Clark said in a news release. “But to ensure this dam continues to be safe into the future, it is vital that we do this work soon.”

A 2015 Parks and Wildlife planning document that summarized estimated costs for replacing, repairing and refurbishing its highest priority dams noted that the tower at Willow Creek Dam was structurally deficient and noted “concentrated leakage into/out of the conduit tower.” At that time, an estimate of the capital costs to repair the dam was placed at $8 million.

Arington added that park visitors can expect reservoir levels to fluctuate and generally be kept at lower levels than is typical, but there are no plans to drain, or significantly lower, water levels. During construction, engineers will divert water through the dam’s spillway.

Early spring is a time when many trout anglers congregate around the inlet of Willow Creek at the upper end of the reservoir, as rainbow trout follow their instincts to attempt to spawn in the creek. That area is unaffected by the dam closure.

Willow Creek Dam is considered by the state to be a “high-hazard” dam, signifying that dam failure could cause loss of life. State officials report they have an emergency plan to deal with such an event.

There is little human habitation along Willow Creek below the dam, but the stream reaches a confluence with the Elk River above unincorporated Clark on its way to ranching country.

Steamboat Lake State Park traditionally aims to open its campgrounds in time for the Memorial Day weekend.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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