Fountain Creek: Can Bear Creek Dam in Jeff. County be a model for flood control?

Following heavy rains which fell mid-Septembe 2013 r in Colorado, the pool elevation at the Bear Creek reservoir rose several feet. At 4 a.m., Sept. 15, the reservoir pool elevation surpassed its previous record elevation of 5587.1 feet, and peaked at a pool elevation of 5607.9 ft on Sept. 22, shown here. Bear Creek Dam did what it was designed to do by catching the runoff and reducing flooding risks to the hundreds of homes located downstream.
Following heavy rains which fell mid-Septembet 2013 in Colorado, the pool elevation at the Bear Creek reservoir rose several feet. At 4 a.m., Sept. 15, the reservoir pool elevation surpassed its previous record elevation of 5587.1 feet, and peaked at a pool elevation of 5607.9 ft on Sept. 22, shown here. Bear Creek Dam did what it was designed to do by catching the runoff and reducing flooding risks to the hundreds of homes located downstream.

From The Pueblo Chieftain (Chris Woodka):

To see how a dam on Fountain Creek might function, it isn’t necessary to look far.

For more than 30 years, three flood control dams have protected downtown Denver from flooding. The first was built on Cherry Creek in 1950, but when waters from the 1965 flood inundated Denver, two other dams, Chatfield and Bear Creek were also built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Of the three, Bear Creek Lake is the most similar to the type that would be built on Fountain Creek.

The earthen dam, 1 mile long, was completed in 1982 and usually stores a relatively small amount of water, about 2,000 acre-feet. Most of the remaining area behind and around the dam is a city of Lakewood park, which offers camping, fishing, picnic areas, trails, archery ranges and golf courses. Other recreational lakes and wetlands are behind the dam.

But twice in the past three years, the dam has prevented millions of dollars of damage by holding back water in a 236-square-mile drainage area — its primary function.

“It reached a record level in 2013 and close to that level in 2015,” said Joe Maxwell, operations manager for the Corps. “There were no abnormalities found as we monitored and it performed as it should.”

Wall of water

In the September 2013 flood, the largest in Colorado’s recorded history, damage to numerous communities, highways and water structures was recorded. But Bear Creek, Chatfield and Cherry Creek kept it from being worse.

Bear Creek Lake stored 28,500 acre-feet of the wall of water that descended during the 2013 event, well within its capacity. The lake level reached an elevation of 5,607 feet, higher than ever before and 50 feet above normal. Water releases began even as other areas still registered high water, because of the Corps’ protocols for operating all three reservoirs in tandem. It took three to four weeks to empty the floodwater.

“The goal is to release the water as soon as possible, but you don’t want to release it too fast,” Maxwell said.

Repairs to trails, roads and structures in the park cost $372,000 and were newly complete last May, when sustained rains pounded the Front Range. Like other areas, Bear Creek Canyon had weeks of sustained rain, which surprised the Corps by filling Bear Creek Reservoir again. The level of the lake rose 50 feet, and didn’t drop to normal until the end of July.

Repairs the second time around in 2015 were less extensive, because there was more warning, a different type of flooding and lessons learned from 2013, said Drew Sprafke, Lakewood regional parks supervisor.

“It was a different character without the high flow in the creek,” he said. “It re-impacted some of the same area, but we had more notice and knew how to respond.”

The city of Lakewood didn’t have to foot the whole bill, but matched county, state and federal funds to make the repairs. But the inundation of water has changed the character of the park, Sprafke said.

“We were able to make repairs,” he said. “But we lost 300 trees that will have to be clear cut. It’s a massive change to the park. The trees were under water for 11-12 weeks in both events, and invasive weeds came in. It will take at least five to 10 years to recover.”

Fountain Creek outlook

A dam, or multiple dams, on Fountain Creek would function in much the same way and has been talked about for years as a way to protect Pueblo from flooding.

The first idea for a dam on Fountain Creek came as part of an Army Corps of Engineers study in 1970 following the flood of 1965. The dam was never funded, and levees on Fountain Creek were completed through the city of Pueblo instead.

A multipurpose dam was brought up again by Pueblo County’s water attorney, Ray Petros, in 2005 as a potential alternative for Southern Delivery System.

As sedimentation has diminished the effectiveness of the levees, the dam idea has been revived in recent years.

A study last year by Wright Water Engineers for Pueblo County showed that 370,000 tons of sediment are deposited south of Colorado Springs each year as flows into Fountain Creek increase. Much of that winds up in Pueblo, raising the level of Fountain Creek and decreasing the effectiveness of the levees.

A payment of $50 million toward flood control on Fountain Creek was written into Pueblo County’s 1041 permit for SDS, and a dam is central to studies.

The Fountain Creek Watershed Flood Control and Greenway District, formed in 2009 as an outgrowth of the Vision Task Force, funded a U.S. Geological Survey study of hypothetical dam sites in 2013. That study showed the most effective way to reduce peak discharge and capture sediment would be a large dam about 10 miles upstream from the confluence of Fountain Creek at the Arkansas River.

Another alternative would involve several detention ponds north of Pueblo, which would be nearly as effective in reducing peak flows, but would capture less sediment.

A study for the district last year by engineer Duane Helton showed negligible impact on downstream water rights if flood control structures maintained a flow of 10,000 cubic feet per second through Pueblo during all but the largest flood events.

The district is now preparing for more detailed feasibility studies that would show where structures could be located and how much they would cost.

That’s a long way from the parks and trails that Lakewood residents enjoy near their flood control dam, but the Fountain Creek district is committed to protecting the creek and topping it with increased recreational opportunities only as the areas along the creek are stabilized.

The district has spearheaded both flood control and recreation demonstration projects so far.

USACE: Bear Creek reservoir in #Colorado to be lowered for valve replacement

Bear Creek Reservoir via City of Lakewood, June 15, 2013.
Bear Creek Reservoir via City of Lakewood, June 15, 2013.

From the US Army Corps of Engineers (Eileen Williamson/Katie Seefus):

Bear Creek reservoir near Lakewood, Colorado, will be lowered twice from the current lake level of 5,558.7 feet to about 5,557.5 feet to allow for valve replacement work at Bear Creek Dam.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District will begin the first lowering today and the second lowering will begin late next week.

To lower the reservoir, releases will be increased to 70 cubic feet per second (cfs) which fall within channel capacity and are significantly less than the maximum 2015 summer release of 500 cfs. It will take less than one day for the reservoir to refill to the normal lake level of 5,558 feet.

This work is being conducted in response to damage documented following recent flooding. Beginning Friday, March 11, normal operations will resume. Bear Creek Lake will be closed to all ice activities due to fluctuating lake levels.

The valve replacement work has been coordinated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with the State of Colorado and the City of Lakewood.

@USACEOmaha: Bear Creek Reservoir to be lowered for inspection and repair

Following heavy rains which fell mid-September [2013] in Colorado, the pool elevation at the Bear Creek reservoir rose several feet. At 4 a.m., Sept. 15, the reservoir pool elevation surpassed its previous record elevation of 5587.1 feet, and peaked at a pool elevation of 5607.9 ft on Sept. 22, shown here. Bear Creek Dam did what it was designed to do by catching the runoff and reducing flooding risks to the hundreds of homes located downstream.
Following heavy rains which fell mid-September [2013] in Colorado, the pool elevation at the Bear Creek reservoir rose several feet. At 4 a.m., Sept. 15, the reservoir pool elevation surpassed its previous record elevation of 5587.1 feet, and peaked at a pool elevation of 5607.9 ft on Sept. 22, shown here. Bear Creek Dam did what it was designed to do by catching the runoff and reducing flooding risks to the hundreds of homes located downstream.

From the US Army Corps of Engineers Omaha District (Kathryn Seefus/Eileen Williamson):

Bear Creek Reservoir near Lakewood, Colorado, will be lowered 5 feet from the normal operating pool elevation of 5,558 feet to allow for inspection and repair work at Bear Creek Dam.

Starting Friday, October 23, releases will be around 50 cubic feet per second (cfs) which fall within channel capacity and are significantly less than the maximum summer release of 500 cfs. The drawdown is expected to take about a week.

During the first three weeks of November, no release will be made from Bear Creek Dam to accommodate planned maintenance, survey, and inspection activities at the outlet works facilities of Bear Creek Dam. Valve repair work will also be conducted in response to damage documented following recent flooding. Beginning the last week of November, normal operations will resume and the lake will continue to refill.

USACE has coordinated this inspection and repair work with the State of Colorado.
Pool elevation graphs for the Tri-Lakes including Bear Creek Reservoir can be found online at: http://www.nwo.usace.army.mil/Missions/DamandLakeProjects/TriLakesProjects.aspx

Pool elevation data for these and other USACE-operated dams, updated hourly, can be tracked online at:
http://www.nwd-mr.usace.army.mil/rcc/plots/plots.html#omaha_plots

Repair projects dating from 2013 flood still in progress — The Canyon Courier

Evergreen Colorado Flooding September 2013 via Business Insider
Evergreen Colorado Flooding September 2013 via Business Insider

From the Canyon Courier (Sandy Barnes):

Concrete barriers along the eroded creek bank in downtown Evergreen are still in place nearly two years after the 2013 flood that caused the damage.

Evergreen businessman Jeff Bradley, manager of the property, said he has obtained a permit from Jefferson County for the project, and has plans to restore the bank. Bradley said he also needs a permit from the federal government, although the project does not involve funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

A few miles down Highway 74 at Lair O’ the Bear Park, a bridge restoration project dating from the 2013 flood is scheduled for this fall…

Another major bridge project is in the works at Evergreen Lake Park, which is owned by Denver Mountain Parks. The aging bridge that provides the only vehicle access to the park is scheduled for replacement next year. The Evergreen Park and Recreation District and the Evergreen Metropolitan District are each contributing $40,000 for the project, which is estimated to cost $790,000. The park district has added an additional $40,000 from Jeffco grant funding it received to assist with the bridge replacement cost.

The 2013 flood contributed to the deterioration of the bridge at the Lake Park, EPRD board member Peter Lindquist noted.

Evergreen Metro District offers help with water rights issue at Buchanan Ponds — the Canyon Courier

Buchanan Pond, Evergreen via EvergreenBound.com
Buchanan Pond, Evergreen via EvergreenBound.com

From the Canyon Courier (Sandy Barnes):

The Evergreen Metropolitan District is offering the use of its senior water rights to guarantee a supply of water for two ponds at Buchanan Park.

Since discovering that the Evergreen Park and Recreation District has no identifiable water rights for the ponds next to Buchanan Rec Center, Ellen O’Connor, EPRD executive director, has been working with state water board officials and the EMD to resolve the issue. One possibility is using EMD water in the ponds rather than attempting to acquire water rights, O’Connor said at the Feb. 24 EPRD board meeting.

Because the park district has no clear water rights for the ponds, someone else could grab them, EPRD board member Peg Linn pointed out.

A worst-case scenario is that the ponds could be drained and dry, said EPRD board member John Ellis.

Before EMD water can be brought to the ponds, the Evergreen metro and park districts need form a partnership and reach an agreement. An engineering assessment and legal work also needs to be done at an estimated cost of $35,000 — an amount the EMD is asking the park district to pay.

“EPRD will be responsible for the costs associated with the proposal research,” said Dave Lighthart, EMD general manager.

During discussion of the issue at the Feb. 25 meeting of the EMD board of directors, member Mark Davidson advised caution while proceeding with the plan.

“We can’t get our water rights harmed,” said Davidson.

“We’re going to need to a lot more information to make our decision,” said EMD board member Scott Smith.

Both Davidson and others at the EMD meeting said the cost of using EMD water would be far less for the park district than going to water court and trying to gain water rights.

“In the final analysis, the plan that we proposed is the most sustainable,” said attorney Paul Cockrel, who represents the EMD.

“There’s a way to make this work,” said Ellis, who serves on the board of both the Evergreen metro and park districts. “This process would be less expensive than acquiring water rights.”

Ellis suggested that Lighthart make a presentation at the next EPRD board meeting on the plan to assist the park district. He and Linn are on a subcommittee of the EPRD board that has been examining the water rights issue in recent months.

A related issue is that the EPRD owns the dams at Buchanan Ponds and is responsible for maintaining them, said O’Connor.

A recent state inspection of the dams revealed the need for some repairs, she said. O’Connor expressed her appreciation to the EMD, which she said assisted the park district with a camera inspection to ensure that the dams had no major repair issues.

“The big concern was with the locks and pipes, and those are fine,” said Peter Lindquist, president of the EPRD board.

The EPRD also needs to provide the state with an emergency evacuation plan in event of the dam breaking, O’Connor added.

Troublesome water source

The source of water for Buchanan Ponds is Troublesome Creek, a tributary of Bear Creek that flows under the Highway 74 overpass near the property in Bergen Park. When the EPRD bought the property for Buchanan Park in 1994, it did not appear that water rights were attached to the ponds.

David Nettles, an engineer with division 1 of the Colorado Division of Water Resources, said he doesn’t see any water rights to the ponds, which formerly were part of the Village at Soda Creek development. In the early 1980s applications were filed by Gayno Inc. and George Alan Holley to acquire water rights for the planned project. Those rights were tied to an original decree dating from 1884 for the Lewis and Strouse Ditch.

It’s possible the rights were subsequently abandoned because of a failure on the part of the previous owners to file a required diligence report with the state, Nettles said.

The developers of the Village at Soda Creek were seeking a conditional water right for their project in the 1980s. According to state law, when a project is completed, the property owner must go to water court and file for an absolute right.

Every six years, the owner of a conditional water right also is required to file an application for a finding of reasonable diligence in the water court of the division in which the right exists. The owner of the conditional right has to prove that he has been pursuing completion of the project related to the water use for which he applied.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.

Evergreen: Popular fishing holes need to shore up water rights

Buchanan Pond, Evergreen via EvergreenBound.com
Buchanan Pond, Evergreen via EvergreenBound.com

From the Canyon Courier (Sandy Barnes):

The two ponds beside Buchanan Rec Center are stocked with trout and are popular among Evergreen residents and visitors who like to try their luck fishing.

The source of water for the ponds is Troublesome Creek, a tributary of Bear Creek that flows under the Highway 74 overpass near the property in Bergen Park.

Since Buchanan Park was developed in the early 2000s, maintaining water for these small lakes has not been a significant issue.

However, the Colorado Division of Water Resources recently informed the Evergreen Park and Recreation District of a potential problem concerning water rights for the Buchanan ponds, said Ellen O’Connor, EPRD executive director.

“We have learned the ponds were originally part of the Village at Soda Creek Lake development,” O’Connor said. “The original water rights were pretty robust and included storage, irrigation and augmentation.”

However, it is unclear as to whether the park district acquired those water rights when the property was purchased for Buchanan Park in December 1994.

“We’re trying to make them aware of the issue,” said David Nettles, an engineer with division one of the Colorado Division of Water Resources. “Someone could seek water rights from the ponds.”

“From looking at what I have, I don’t see any water rights,” Nettles remarked.

The park district would be notified if someone filed a claim for water rights at the Buchanan ponds, he added.

There are two inactive cases on file with the state water court regarding water rights for the Village at Soda Creek development. In the early 1980s applications were filed by Gayno Inc. and George Alan Holley to acquire water rights for the planned project. Those rights were tied to an original decree dating from 1884 for the Lewis and Strouse Ditch.

It’s possible that the rights were subsequently abandoned because of a failure on the part of the previous owners to file a required diligence report with the state, Nettles said.

To address the issue, EPRD has formed a two-member subcommittee. Board members John Ellis and Peg Linn are researching the matter and are expected to report to the board on their findings. O’Connor also has been conferring with Tim Buckley, the water commissioner serving the district for Evergreen…

Historic water issues at Buchanan Park

When Thomas Bergen, founder of Bergen Park, acquired his homestead from the federal government in 1875, water rights for the property were not a given.

The homestead certificate, which bears the signature of President Ulysses Grant, gave Bergen and his heirs an 80-acre tract of land, subject to “any vested and accrued water rights for mining … and rights to ditches as reservoirs used in connection with such water rights, as may be recognized and acknowledged by the local customs, laws and decisions of the courts.”

The Evergreen Park and Recreation District purchased two parcels of this historic property from the Fahnenstiel family in 2006 as part of a bond issue. This property is now part of Buchanan Park and the site of the Evergreen community garden, which is served by water taps provided by the Evergreen Metropolitan District.

A final note: While it is impressive to see, the authenticity of the signature of President Grant on the 1875 homestead certificate for Bergen is questionable. According to historical research, secretaries copied presidents’ signatures onto these documents after being authorized to sign them as proxies by President Andrew Jackson in the 1830s.

More water law coverage here.

Post-flood master plans for three Boulder County creeks ready for review — Longmont Times-Call

From the Longmont Times-Call (Joe Rubino):

It’s been more than 15 months since Boulder County was wracked by historic rainfall that caused area creeks to jump their banks, and, in some cases, create new channels entirely, resulting in extensive damage to homes and infrastructure along the way.

Following an exhaustive public process, Boulder County officials announced earlier this month that they have finalized post-flood master plans for three local creeks: Fourmile, Left Hand and the St. Vrain.

The plans are meant to be comprehensive guides outlining how best to restore and stabilize the watersheds for each body of water, including recommendations for bank stabilization, debris removal, re-vegetation and even channel realignment on public and private properties.

While many of the individual projects contained in the plans are not funded, charting them out is expected to give stakeholders, especially municipalities, a leg up in securing the money needed.

“If we identify the improvements in the plans it makes it much more likely they will be funded by grants coming from the state and federal government,” Boulder County Transportation Director George Gerstle said.

Gerstle’s was among many county departments, including Land Use, Open Space, and Health and Environment, that contributed to drafting the master plans, but he credited the property owners and other groups concerned with the county’s environment with spurring the process forward.

“Though we lead the efforts it really was a coalition of all the property owners and all of the interest groups that really made this possible,” he said. “It was a pretty intensive effort by a lot of people to put together, but I think some pretty great documents have come out of it.”

The county also employed the services of engineering consulting firm Michael Baker for the process.

Naturally, there are many property owners who want to get to work on when the county’s various creeks and streams pass through their land, and Gerstle said the master plans are an important tool to make sure all work that is done has the entire watershed in mind.

“A lot of property owners want to do something to stabilize the creek and this provides guidance on how to do it while maintaining the environmental integrity,” he said. “One thing we learned is we can look at (the creeks) bit by bit, we have to see how it all works together.”

A creek of particular importance is the St. Vrain.

Gerstle pointed out that the stream completely changed its traditional alignment just west of Longmont, leading to heavy damage in the city. The master plan outlines steps to put it back in its channel and keep it there in a way the respects the natural environment.

Dale Rademacher, Longmont’s general manager of public works and natural resources, said he appreciated the opportunity for collaboration presented by the master planning process and the way it looked at the St. Vrain as a whole from it origins near the Great Divide down to it confluence with Boulder Creek.

“We’re pretty happy with the outcome. This is a foundational document necessary to go forward for state and federal funding and we think it serves that purpose pretty well,” he said.

Rademacher highlighted one project in the St. Vrain plan that he said could be underway next month. It involves creation of an overflow channel for Heron Lake that would direct flood waters away from Airport Road, an important street that still has flood barriers sitting alongside it just in case.

Rademacher said the Heron Lake project is intended to “intercept flood flows that may come through the area again,” and protect property nearby. He said the project, which is the subject to an intergovernmental agreement between city and county officials, is expected to cost around $700,000 and is being put out to bid within the next week with construction hopefully beginning in January.

More South Platte River Basin coverage here.