Gypsum hosts big dam celebration for completion of LEDE Reservoir dam | VailDaily.com

Gypsum hosts big dam celebration for completion of LEDE Reservoir dam

GYPSUM — This week, the town of Gypsum celebrated the dedication ceremony for the new LEDE Reservoir dam. It may be the most aptly named celebration that the town has ever hosted.

It took a huge amount of dedication, and decades of discussion, to rebuild the dam. Thursday, Sept. 14, provided an opportunity for town representatives, state officials, U.S. Forest Service personnel and other people involved in the project to revel in the reward that their patience produced.

It took nearly four years and nearly $6 million to get to this point.

The original reservoir dates back to around 1908, and in the 1930s, a team of four ranchers, whose names are immortalized in the facility's name (Lundgren, Erickson, Doll and Engstrom), improved the dam. Over the decades, LEDE Reservoir became a popular camping location, and Gypsum's leaders often looked to the site as a potential water-storage solution. As Gypsum Town Manager Jeff Shroll noted, when he started his job with the town back in 1994, the Gypsum Town Council had already been looking at the LEDE project for years.

"The council was looking at how does Gypsum protect its water?" Shroll said.

Over time, Shroll said the town became equally concerned about how it could protect the watershed in the event of a catastrophic forest fire. The answer to both issues was the improvement and expansion of LEDE Reservoir, but that didn't mean the solution was simple.

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"We thought it would be pretty easy; after all, there was already a reservoir up here," said Gypsum Town Engineer Jim Hancock. He recalled how, back in 2008, a state official warned him otherwise, saying "dams are hard." That statement proved to be prophetic.

Breaking ground

After five years of planning, design and permitting, Gypsum began actual construction on the dam in November 2013.

"We thought we could build this thing in a year," Hancock said.

The town tapped a local contractor for the LEDE work. Hobbs Excavation of Gypsum was tasked with building the 65-foot-tall dam — an increase from the original 15-foot-tall structure built in 1908 and the 44-foot-tall dam built in the 1930s. Capacity of the reservoir is now 947 acre feet, increased from 434 acre feet. The LEDE Reservoir capacity today is now roughly equivalent to Sylvan Lake.

But when the Hobbs crews diverted the water at LEDE and started to work to reinforce and enlarge the structure, they found out they had to remove 58,654 cubic yards of unsuitable material.

When building a reservoir, it is vital to get to bedrock or, at the least, to structural material. Crews spent most of the 2014 construction season removing material, which eventually equated to more than 2,600 truckloads, to get to where the reservoir footprint should be. That was a schedule killer for the project, especially since it's a short construction season at the LEDE elevation. Ultimately, it took three years to complete the dam.

During Thursday's celebration, Hancock brought out several enlarged photos showing the construction progress of the new LEDE dam. In all of them, a large stake — which actually included two long strips of wood duct taped together at what he referred to as "jaunty angle" — could be spotted. That stake represented the completed height of the new dam.

When crews reached that spot, the stake was unceremoniously yanked from the ground, but Hancock rescued it and presented it to Stewart and Rowdy Hobbs at Thursday's dedication.

"Our family has been doing excavation in this valley for 45 years. It meant a lot to us to do this project," said Stewart Hobbs. "This is something that we are proud of."

Officials from the state of Colorado said Gypsum also have a lot to be proud about when it comes to the LEDE project.

"We see these kinds of project proposed around the state, and so many times, it's about perseverance," said Kirk Russell, of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which provided both grant and loan money to help finance the project.

"The state of Colorado is really proud of the town of Gypsum in sticking through this," Russell said.

Other state representatives agreed.

"No one (in Gypsum) wanted to believe us that this would take three years," said Garrett Jackson, Colorado Department of Water Resources dam safety engineer. But ultimately, the town's investment of time and money has resulted in a great outcome, he said.

"You did good, Gypsum," Jackson concluded.