Dam work now under way in Gypsum
Reservoir expansion project begins after five years of planning
After an epic permitting process that took years longer than anticipated, shovels are finally in the dirt at LEDE Reservoir south of Gypsum.
The town is budgeting more than $5 million to expand the reservoir that holds part of its water supply. About $1.3 million has already been spent and the town recently signed Hobbs Excavating, a local contractor, for $2.6 million – a bid that came in under budget.
Brothers Stewart and Rowdy Hobbs, who co-own the company, got straight to work and joined Gypsum officials for a ground-breaking ceremony Nov. 19.
“We normally don’t do ground-breaking ceremonies but it’s taken so much to get to this point, this is a big deal,” said Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll.
The reservoir will be expanded from 431 acre-feet of water capacity to 947 acre-feet. An acre-foot is the volume of water to cover an acre with a foot of water and is the average amount used by a suburban family in a year.
The expansion plans have been in the works since at least 2008 and a completion date of 2010 or 2011 was anticipated. The original plan bumped the reservoir up to 680 acre feet. In 2010, however, the town was still bogged down with paperwork and realized that if LEDE expanded to 947 acre feet there would be a much better value.
That decision tacked on another half million dollars the town didn’t have at the time. Gypsum has been saving since then, though, and Shroll anticipates finishing 2014 with almost $2 million in reserve if everything goes according to plan.
The Hobbs brothers have already been plowing the snowy road up to the dam and making some improvements to get their equipment up there.
“They will do as much as the state will allow before winter, up to and including removing the dam,” said Gypsum Engineer Jim Hancock.
First, about 10 acres of trees and vegetation have to be cleared. West Range Reclamation of Hotchkiss will help with that. West Range is the contracted fuel supplier for the biomass power plant in Gypsum, which will go on line soon. Most of the trees cleared from LEDE will go there and some of the better ones may find their way to a sawmill.
“The U.S. Forest Service told us we could get a lot of money for the lumber up here,” Hancock said. “It turned out the timber was worth about $63,000 but the cost to transport it would be $175,000.”
Hancock said the Forest Service agents literally counted every tree.
“You would hear a guy in the woods yell, ‘Ten aspen,’ and a guy standing here in the parking lot would write it down,” Hancock said.
Once the timber is cleared, the next step will be preparing for spring runoff. Builders don’t want the water collecting in the reservoir as it normally would, so designs are being made to direct it elsewhere. Not only would the water get in the way, it would affect the stability of what will be considered a “high hazard dam.”
Most of next summer will be spent digging out the reservoir, Stewart Hobbs said.
“It will likely be June when it’s clear enough (of snow) to start that work,” he said. “We’ll move about 200,000 yards of dirt.”
Then of course, the dam and spillway will be built, finished off with a final grading and liner.
Hancock said the reservoir will hopefully be ready to fill in the spring of 2015.
“The state has a staged filling schedule so they can check things,” Hancock said.
Meanwhile, the town has to compensate for a wetland area that will be displaced by the work. The wetlands are slightly less than two acres and Gypsum will replace them with four acres of wetlands in another drainage.
Shroll said the town hopes to get fish in the new reservoir as soon as possible.
“Right now, the dam is not deep enough for fish to survive through the winter,” he said. “A big hope with this project is also to protect in-stream flows on Gypsum Creek.”
There used to be a Forest Service campground but it’s been primitive camping since the toilet was removed some time ago, Hancock said.
“We would like to see something up here for camping, and the town was willing to pay for a toilet, but apparently you can’t just add something like that – it requires more approvals,” Hancock said. “We’re working on it.”
The original dam was constructed in 1931 and raised to its present structural height of 44 feet around 1940. LEDE Reservoir’s odd name is derived from the initials of four families that built it. As an old dam, it has to be structurally upgraded anyway to comply with regulations and the new dam will be about 64 feet high. The surface area of the reservoir will grow from 25 acres to 32 acres.
“The Hobbs brothers joked that they have a strong interest to build the dam well because they have a ranch in the valley below it,” Hancock said.
Company officials say every aspect of Vail management is now focused on attaining the company’s goal of achieving a zero net operating footprint by 2030. Vail Resorts calls the plan their “Commitment to Zero,” and defines it a zero net carbon emissions by 2030, zero waste to landfills, and zero operating impact on forests and natural habitat.