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Gypsum eyes completion of big dam project

Construction crews at LEDE Reservoir excavate the plunge pool at the discharge of the pipe and spillway.
Special to the Daily |

GYPSUM — This summer should mark the conclusion of Gypsum’s big dam project.

LEDE Reservoir, a popular recreational site located 18 miles south of town, has been closed to the public since 2013 as the town worked to rehabilitate and enlarge the site. The reservoir was built in the 1930s by a team of four ranchers whose names are immortalized in the facility’s title (Lundgren, Erickson, Doll and Engstrom).

According to Gypsum Town Engineer Jim Hancock, the LEDE site is actually a prehistoric glacial lake and that’s why the ranchers took advantage of the site to construct their reservoir. After an expansion in the 1940s, the site became a popular camping spot. The LEDE Reservoir is located on U.S. Forest Service land.

Back in 2005, with estimates projecting large growth in the community, the town of Gypsum purchased the LEDE storage capacity. Think of it this way — the Forest Service still owns the bucket, but the town owns the water in it.

But when they made the deal, Gypsum knew the bucket was leaking. Because of the damage potential associated with a failure, the LEDE reservoir is classified as a high hazard dam.

Hancock noted those weren’t words with the old dam construction, but that’s no longer the case.

“This is a super tight dam,” Hancock said.

But it was a significant challenge to get to that point.

“We did run into some unusual conditions,” Hancock said.

Specifically, when crews diverted the water and started to work to reinforce and enlarge the structure, they found out they had to remove 58,654 cubic yards of unsuitable material. That equated to more than 2,600 truckloads.

“The idea with dams is you want to build them on bedrock, and if not, on structural material,” Hancock said. Crews spent most of the 2014 construction season removing material to get to where the reservoir footprint should be. That was a schedule killer for the project.

“It’s a short construction season up there to begin with, and we had some pretty short seasons to construct,” Hancock said.

Before they proceed to fill the reservoir this spring, there are final details to complete but the town anticipates filling the site halfway when runoff hits. The dam will be then extensively monitored for 30 days and if the readings show it is tight, the town can then fill it to capacity.

Recreation renewed

With the challenges of construction completed, the next issue for the LEDE site will be its recreation future. During the construction period, the Forest Service has had a closure order for the site, but that will expire this spring.

Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll noted the LEDE site is an attractive camping option, but it is an option without Forest Service amenities.

“The recreation opportunities are the next issues we will be working on,” Shroll said.

For anyone who follows national news, it won’t be a surprise to hear that the Forest Service isn’t currently in the business of expanding its services. But the town of Gypsum is willing to pick up the slack if it can come to an agreement with the feds.

Shroll said the town would be willing to take over management of the LEDE camping area. That would clear the way for Gypsum to install composting toilets, picnic benches and fire rings — basic camping amenities.

Hancock noted from a water quality and site protection standpoint, if LEDE is going to be open to the public, then there really need to be public amenities there.

“Our goal is not to be Sylvan Lake State Park,” Shroll said. Rather, he noted, Gypsum would like to see conditions at the site similar to what used to be there.

“There are people who have been coming up here for eons,” he noted. “And it is a close amenity for our residents. We think now (following the towns rehabilitation and expansion work) the recreation opportunities at LEDE will be better than ever before.”


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