Oak Creek to bid out Sheriff Reservoir fixes again, now with Routt County, state support

A boater floats on Sheriff Reservoir in Rio Blanco County in June 2022. The reservoir serves as a water supply for the town of Oak Creek.
Suzie Romig/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Routt County approved more support to complete upgrades at Sheriff Reservoir on Tuesday, Nov. 8, this time for installation of a new head gate at Oak Creek’s nearly 70-year-old water source.

The $80,000 from the county will be used with an equal amount of town funding to get a matching grant from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs. If the grant is awarded as officials expect, the state and local funding would total $380,000.

“(County commissioners) realize the need of the community for the Sheriff Reservoir improvements,” said David Torgler, town administrator of Oak Creek.

Torgler said this county money could be reallocated from funding commissioners already allocated to support broadband infrastructure commissioners have made to Oak Creek. That money went toward “make ready” improvements that would ease broadband installation, but Torgler said the system wasn’t in as bad a shape as some thought, lessening the cost of that project.

Torgler said the savings from that project are roughly equal to the $80,000 commissioners allocated on Tuesday.

Sheriff Reservoir has two problems. First, the original head gate is 68 years old, and both town officials and state water managers worry it could fail if it is not replaced. Installing a new gate is what the latest county funding would be used to support.

The town has put installation of a new head gate out to bid twice, but each effort produced bids that far exceeded initial engineering estimates for the cost of the work and the available funding. That estimate was $187,000, but the lowest bid the town received was $405,000.

The town has purchased the new head gate equipment already with the help of DOLA and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

“The town board looked at the budget and they’re going to allocate $80,000 out of (American Rescue Plan Act) dollars,” Torgler said. “I’ve spoken with the DOLA regional manager and they’ve expressed support.”

Torgler said they hope to put out the third bid for the project in January. The work on the head gate will start when the site can be accessed again in June after enough snow has melted to provide consistent access to the reservoir, which is located in Rio Blanco County.

The second issue is that the spillway for the reservoir does not meet updated state regulations for a high-hazard dam. The designation “high hazard” means that if the dam failed, there would be significant values like people and property in the flood path. It does not mean the dam is in danger of failing currently.

Work on the spillway is expected to be much more expensive than the head gate, with estimates from two years ago suggesting it could cost as much as $13 million.

Torgler said the town would learn firmer spillway costs when design engineering on that part of the project is completed early next year.

“At that point we will go out and secure funding, and once we’ve secured funding then we can bid the project out,” Torgler said.

Finding the funding for the larger spillway project is a daunting task for the small town, as it amounts to roughly 25 times the money the town spent on its entire water system in 2020. Torgler said Oak Creek has been working with the offices of Senators Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper to see what federal funding could support the project.

Other sources of funding could be the Colorado Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management or DOLA, which has given money to the town for other aspects of the project as well. The Colorado River District and Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District have also pitched in on work at the reservoir.

“When it comes time to look for funding for construction, they will be resources we will try to work in partnership with,” Torgler said.

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