Reservoir work nears completion in Gypsum
by the numbers
15 feet: Original height of dam built in the 1930s.
44 feet: Dam height expansion in the 1940s.
65 feet: Expanded height.
25 surface acres: Original reservoir size.
32 acres: Expanded reservoir size.
47 feet: Original reservoir depth.
59 feet: Expanded reservoir depth.
431 acre feet: Original storage capacity.
947 acre feet: Expanded storage capacity.
$5.2 million: Total project cost.
GYPSUM — Its been a long two years for recreationalists and hunters who view LEDE Reservoir, 18 miles south of Gypsum, as their favorite Colorado getaway.
In November 2013, the town of Gypsum launched a 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 popular site has been closed to public use since that time.
“This week, weather permitting, we are going to complete the earthen-fill dam,” said Gypsum Town Engineer Jim Hancock. “The dam is now as high as it needs to be.”
That’s a landmark accomplishment for the $5.2 million, multi-year project. At its completion in 2016, the town will have a safer and larger reservoir — with more than twice the current storage capacity.
According to Hancock, the LEDE site is actually a prehistoric glacial lake. Back in the 1930s, the four ranchers memorialized in the LEDE name took advantage of the site to construct their reservoir. Expanded in the 1940s, the site, located on U.S. Forest Service land, became a popular camping locale. In 2005, with estimates projecting large growth in the community,the town of Gypsum purchased the LEDE Reservoir as a water storage facility for the community. But for long-term use, Gypsum knew it needed to reinforce the dam.
Hancock noted the state had classified LEDE as a high hazard dam that required safety upgrades.
“There is all this new engineering involved to ensure that earthen dams will stand the test of time,” Hancock said. “I tell people we were ignorant of the dangers we were in with the old dam.”
While work began in the late fall of 2013, the project kicked into high gear in 2014. Crews spent most of that year prepping for the new dam. More than 45,000 cubic yards of unsuitable material had to be removed and replaced with select fill below the existing reservoir floor to provide a suitable foundation within the future dam footprint. The new outlet pipe also was completed. The 2015 work centered on building the new dam.
According to Hancock, the new earthen dam standards call out specification for core, shell and filter materials.
“And with all these different materials, there are standards that need to be met,” he said. The exacting nature of dam construction is part of the reason why the project has taken so long and cost so much.
Gypsum secured a $2.6 million loan from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and a $225,000 grant from the organization. Additionally, the Colorado River District provided a $150,000 grant for the project. But, as Hancock noted, 95 percent of the cost is being paid by the Gypsum Discretionary Water Fund.
Along with its desire to address the safety concerns for LEDE, Hancock noted Gypsum views the reservoir as an important long-term investment. He said the town currently has more water rights than available storage and by doubling the capacity at LEDE, Gypsum will address that issue. Additionally, LEDE will provide carryover storage from wet to dry years and allow operational flexibility to improve the health of Gypsum Creek. And, with a deeper reservoir, Hancock said fishing will improve.
For the more immediate future, when the dam construction is completed, Gypsum will begin filling the reservoir. That work will happen in increments so testing can be completed on the new structure.
“We are still waiting to hear from the state to see what the process for filling LEDE will be,” said Hancock. He figures it will be well into 2016 before the reservoir is filled and the reclamation work around the site is completed.
Hancock said he is hearing form local and visiting recreationalists anxious to return to LEDE.
“People have been very patient, but I have developed an appreciation for how many people use LEDE Reservoir. It’s been an eye-opener,” he said.
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Lindsey Vonn no longer has a home in Vail, but a big piece of her heart will always remain here.