Spring Creek dam in need of costly repairs or replacement
Steamboat Springs — The city of Steamboat Springs will soon have to decide whether it wants to spend as much as $1 million to replace a dam and, in so doing, preserve a pond and water rights at one of its most idyllic parks.
With corroded outlet pipes and a spillway deemed too small to safely handle a potential flood, the Upper Spring Creek Dam — more than a century old — is in need of significant repairs or replacement.
Building a new dam would allow the city to maintain a longstanding water right, preserve recreation in the area and continue to allow Colorado Parks and Wildlife to raise cutthroat trout in one of the ponds.
But preliminary cost estimates from the city for replacing the aging dam range from $810,000 for one option to just over $1 million for another.
If the city decides to abandon the dam, officials estimate the breach and the other associated work would cost $150,000.
“The question for people to assess is what is the value of this water right?,” city Parks, Open Space and Trails Manager Craig Robinson said Monday.
City staff has been discussing options and alternatives internally.
The Upper Spring Creek Dam is located just above a dog park that was created in the early 2000s, when another aging dam in the area was abandoned and breached.
The Spring Creek dams are thought to have been constructed about 1905, when the creek was being used as the town of Steamboat’s primary water supply.
Pipes were constructed to bring water into Spring Creek Reservoir from Fish Creek.
Today, the city’s Parks and Community Services Department is recommending the city budget $1 million to spend in 2018 to build a new dam downstream from the lower Spring Creek pond.
The department is seeking an additional $150,000 next year for planning and development.
It will be up to the city’s management team to decide whether to send the budget proposals to the Steamboat Springs City Council for consideration this fall.
The 170-foot-long dam is not currently failing and does not pose immediate risk to the public, officials say.
But Robinson said it has a few significant issues that could lead the state to order its breach if it isn’t repaired or replaced in the coming years.
A recent inspection by state dam safety engineer Dana Miller also revealed other issues, such as seepage.
“It doesn’t meet today’s standards,” Miller said.
Miller said the dam, which stores fewer than five acre-feet of water, is at risk of an overtopping failure.
Because the dam is upstream from an urban area filled with development, it is held to a higher safety standard and requires a larger spillway than it currently has.
Another dam in the area was breached in the early 2000s due to its poor condition.
The city decided to take that course after it was estimated the dam would need $250,000 in repairs.
Under the Parks and Community Services Department’s preferred plan, a new dam would be constructed downstream from the current dog park, and a slightly larger pond would be created where the dog park is currently located.
Robinson said there would be a potential opportunity to create a new dog park on the current site of the upper pond.
“It would look different than it looks today,” Robinson said of the park.
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