Five leaks detected at LEDE Reservoir south of Gypsum
Issues don’t involve dam or expansion project, but repairs mean reservoir won’t be filled this year
Five leaks have been discovered at LEDE Reservoir south of Gypsum, but state and town officials say the recently rebuilt dam at the site is not impacted and the basin issues do not pose a safety threat to the Gypsum Creek Valley.
According to Gypsum Town Engineer Jim Hancock, the five leaks are located at various elevations along the west bank and initial assessments indicate they are unrelated to the recent dam construction project at the site.
“LEDE has a history of leaking and apparently these leaks are in the natural reservoir,” Hancock said. “This is more about the historic nature of the geology up there.”
Hancock noted that the west side of the reservoir is a glacial moraine, characterized by rocky and porous conditions. “It appears these leaks are in the natural reservoir,” he said. “It is historic leaking that we attempted to cap with a liner, but in a couple of places that didn’t seem to work.”
In November 2013, the town of Gypsum launched its $5.2 million rehabilitation and enlargement project for the historic LEDE (an acronym reflecting the names of the ranchers who built it — Lundgren, Erickson, Doll and Engstrom) Reservoir. The LEDE site is a prehistoric glacial lake and in the 1930s, the four ranchers memorialized in the LEDE name took advantage of the site to construct their reservoir. The reservoir — which is located on U.S. Forest Service land — was expanded in the 1940s and became a popular camping locale.
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In 2005, with estimates projecting large growth in the community, the town of Gypsum purchased the LEDE Reservoir as a water storage facility. But the state had classified LEDE as a high-hazard dam that required safety upgrades so the town commenced its rehabilitation and expansion project. That work was completed in the fall of 2017 and the town began filling the reservoir in the spring and summer of 2018.
Sparse snowpack and runoff conditions affected that work, however, Hancock said. The state restricts the rate that reservoirs can be filled for the first time to 1 foot per day.
“Even though the dam as been completed for a few years, with runoff and weather conditions, we have not been able to fill it to the brim,” Hancock said.
That’s been a disappointment for recreation users, but the fill delay will help as the town addresses the leaks.
“The reservoir is essentially empty and our plan is to make repairs before we begin filling, ideally, before runoff commences,” Hancock said. “Now, while the reservoir is low, our hope is to get in and do a quick repair.”
Hancock said the dam safety engineer for the Colorado Division of Water Resources visited the site last week and in his official report, he concurred with the assessment that the leaks are not related to the dam construction and do not pose a failure risk. But the state will require that the town submit its repair plan prior to beginning construction.
“His justification being that we are still under first fill and the dam has not yet reached maximum storage/loading,” Hancock explained. “This will add some time to our remediation and may cause us to miss out on the first part of the runoff, but it seems unwise not to make the repairs while we have the opportunity.”
Hancock added that if the reservoir wasn’t still at first fill level, the leak repairs would likely be classified as maintenance work.
The town has not yet compiled a cost estimate for the repair work.
“It’s not a huge project, but we will have to pay to get equipment up there,” Hancock said.
The biggest impact from the repair project will be another summer when people won’t be able to enjoy the amenity. The reservoir will not fill this year, Hancock said.
“This isn’t an emergency or something to be concerned about. But certainly, from a water resources standpoint, we want to get the leaks fixed,” Hancock said.