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Routt County commissioners willing to help Oak Creek with Sheriff Reservoir repairs

Sheriff Dam and Reservoir in November.
Brian Romig/Courtesy

The Routt County Board of Commissioners signaled willingness Monday to help the town of Oak Creek pay for initial designs for repairs to Sheriff Dam and Reservoir, the town’s 68-year-old water source.

Located in Rio Blanco County, the dam has had issues with sinkholes in recent years, but those repairs have thus far held up, said Oak Creek town manager David Torgler in a meeting with commissioners. But an analysis has also flagged the spillway as inadequate.

“The town has been put under notice by the state dam engineer’s office that the reservoir is under restriction (and) that it needs repair,” Torgler said. “Initial analysis done in 2020 showed that the cost could be between $10 (million) and $13 million.”



The town is replacing the head gate this year but also needs to do construction engineering for the new spillway. Torgler said, including a fee to state regulators, this engineering will cost about $320,000.

“The town simply does not have that amount of money,” Torgler said. “Without this reservoir, the town of Oak Creek’s water supply will dry up every year. … If we don’t have any water, we’re done as a town, so the town has got to do something.”



Sheriff Dam and Reservoir is fed by Trout Creek, but water is diverted into Oak Creek to reach the town of the same name. In the event of a breach, water would flow toward Milner.
Town of Oak Creek/Courtesy

Oak Creek is putting $75,000 toward the engineering, using about half of its American Rescue Plan Act funding. Another $60,000 could come from the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, Torgler said. Other potential funding courses could be the Colorado Water Conservancy Board and the Colorado River District, he said.

Torgler did not ask for a certain dollar amount from commissioners, and no official contribution was approved Monday, but commissioners said they were comfortable contributing a similar amount as the town itself.

While Sheriff Reservoir flows to the town through Oak Creek — the waterway after which the town itself is named — it is actually fed mainly by Trout Creek, which flows toward Milner. In the event of a dam breach, it would likely take about four hours for floodwaters to reach the unincorporated town.

Routt County Emergency Operations Director Mo DeMorat said there are some structures, as well as infrastructure like bridges and culverts, in the path of floodwaters.

The town could opt to not fill the reservoir and get its water elsewhere, but Torgler said having the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District transport water to the town’s system could cost even more than repairing the reservoir.

“I think alternative ideas around not fixing the dam don’t make any sense at all,” said Commissioner Tim Corrigan.

Torgler said the town has a meeting with the Upper Yampa water district next week and intends to meet with other potential funding sources in February. Engineers would start work sometime this spring, assuming the rest of the funding is identified.

Commissioners have said they will take their time to decide how to spend the county’s $5 million from the American Rescue Plan Act and are not close to making any final decisions. Still, Corrigan said he would expect this project to be high on the county’s priority list.

Once this engineering is complete, Torgler said the town will have a more definite estimate of the cost of repairs and can start looking for funding sources to pay for the actual construction.

“Oak Creek residents are not high-income earners, so the ability to pay on rates would have to be figured into any loan.” Torgler said. “Our two (U.S.) senators have both expressed interest in this project.”


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