Ward Creek Reservoir on Grand Mesa has been drastically drained to facilitate dam repairs. The 26-acre reservoir, which was formed in 1955 by harnessing the current of Ward Creek, is empty except for the creek itself which continues to flow through the lake bottom. Although the reservoir is a popular fishing and hiking destination with public access, the dam is privately owned and privately maintained and the water is retained solely for agricultural use.
Reached for comments, representatives of the reservoir owners and the state division of water resources agreed that the draining is a routine matter.
Keith Waibel, president of the Surface Creek Ditch and Reservoir Company which owns the reservoir, said that draining the water allowed state officials to inspect the dam’s head gate and determine the need for repairs. Jason Ward, state dam safety engineer with the Colorado Division of Water Resources stated that “the draining of the reservoir fell within normal water administration of reservoirs on Grand Mesa.” The state engineer’s office oversees dams and dam safety in the state of Colorado including inspection.
The duration of needed repairs at Ward Creek Reservoir is yet to be determined. Waibel said the ditch and reservoir company is already at work on the project and the company plans to refill the lake as soon as possible. As for the disposition of the reservoir’s fish population, Waibel said that most of the fish escaped via Ward Creek. The active creek descends from Grand Mesa and flows into Tongue Creek which empties into the Gunnison River.
Most of the bodies of water on Grand Mesa are either natural lakes, which have been enhanced by dam building, or reservoirs, which have been created from scratch by damming. In most cases, the water is municipally or privately owned and the dams and water levels are maintained by owners.
The draining of large lakes and reservoirs is dramatic and sometimes alarming to the public, but the process is an inherent part of water management. Ward noted that large bodies of water on Grand Mesa are periodically drained to “facilitate inspection, maintenance, and repairs.” Sometimes repairs go quickly and sometimes the work can take years.
Deep Ward Lake, which lies upstream from Ward Reservoir, is an example of a long-term project. In May 2018, the Grand Valley District of the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests (GMUG) issued a press release indicating that Deep Ward Lake would be partially drained during the summers of 2018 and 2019 to make repairs to that lake’s dam. At 85 acres, Deep Ward is much larger than Ward Reservoir but, because the dam there has been breached, the water level remains below ideal reservoir capacity.
According to Ward, Deep Ward is a large natural lake but it’s still “missing the top 25 feet of reservoir storage.” Deep Ward will not be back to ideal capacity until the dam is reconstructed. At present, the project is awaiting engineering plans before necessary construction can continue.
Ward Creek Reservoir is the latest lake on Grand Mesa to be drained to facilitate dam maintenance but it was not the first and it will not be the last. Recently, Bailey Reservoir in the Leroux Creek drainage and Big Eggleston Lake which lies at the eastern trailhead of Crag Crest Trail were both emptied for dam repairs. And, in 2020, Carson Lake on the Kannah Creek drainage is scheduled for closure, draining, and dam repairs.
Regarding Carson, the Grand Valley District of the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests (GMUG) and the City of Grand Junction have posted a notice at the Grand Mesa Visitor Center announcing that “The Carson Lake Recreation Area and Forest Service Road 108 will be closed to public access for the Summer and Fall of 2020 to repair the dam on Carson Lake.” Carson Lake is part of the domestic water supply for Grand Junction.
As for the disposition of Carson fish, prior to the start of closure and construction at the reservoir, the City of Grand Junction has joined with Colorado Parks & Wildlife to encourage anglers to harvest fish there until construction begins. Bag and possession restrictions have been lifted and anglers are allowed to take unlimited fish in advance of plans to begin draining the lake. A valid Colorado fishing license is still required and fish must be caught using legal means.
According to the City of Grand Junction’s website, it may be as long as three years before all repairs are completed at Carson. But, Lee Cooper, engineer for the City of Grand Junction, said the hope is that most of the necessary dam repairs can be completed between June and October of 2020.
The work is critical because the Carson dam — which was finished in 1948 — is classified as a “high hazard dam.” A high hazard classification is assigned to any dam which presents a potential loss of life downstream.
“With the development that’s been going on downstream of Carson in the Kannah Creek drainage,” Cooper said, “it’s definitely a high hazard dam.”
While Carson Dam is under repair in 2020, the adjacent campground will be closed as will portions of trail access. The joint GMUG and City of Grand Junction announcement includes a map and provides further information regarding how various trails in the affected area can be accessed stating: “In 2020, the public can access the Carson Lake Trail (728) and Kannah Creek Trail (706) from Flowing Park Road (Forest Service Road 109). The Coal Creek Trail (702) can be accessed from the Deep Creek Cutoff Trail (701) which begins 1.5 miles to the west of the entrance to the Carson Lake Recreation Area.”
“We want to get the word out,” said Cooper, “so that hunters that hunt in that unit and other recreation users are aware that access to Carson Reservoir will be closed for construction and dam improvements next summer and fall.”Triple click and type.