Oak Creek needs more funding to repair Sheriff Dam

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Water flows from Sheriff Reservoir in June. The nearly 70-year-old reservoir serves as the water source for Oak Creek and is in need of major upgrades.
Suzie Romig / Steamboat Pilot and Today

The city of Oak Creek needs to raise more money to pay for improvements to the 68-year-old Sheriff Dam after the city council chose to reject a series of bids to build well above original estimates.

City Manager David Torgler said technical estimates for the main gate and operator upgrades were around $187,000, but the lowest bid for the work was $405. $000. Torgler said the highest bid for the work was over $1 million.

“We’re talking about installing pretty basic pieces of equipment,” Torgler said. “We believe we are impacted by COVID and the inflation that our country is facing right now.”



According to the Consumer Price Index, Inflation from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mountainous region that includes Colorado saw nearly double-digit inflation between June 2022 and June 2021.

Several improvements are needed on the dam and the reservoir, which serves as a water source for the city. The first is to replace the head gate and operator, which are simply old and have lasted beyond their original design.



Oak Creek raised funds for the project, securing contributions from Routt County, the Upper Yampa Water Conservation District, and the Colorado River District, but the cost of the work exceeded available funding.

Torgler said there wouldn’t have been enough time to get more money to accept the lowest bid, which is why the city council chose to reject those quotes. He said he had contacted other funding partners and that the project would eventually have to go through the request for proposals process again.

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 and Today

One such potential partner is Colorado’s Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, which Torgler says may be able to direct federal infrastructure funds toward the project. Another option could be the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.

The city has also included this project in spending requests directed by Congress, which allows federal lawmakers to include money for local projects in the larger federal budget.

“If we can’t get the funding, we can include (the main gate and operator work) in the bigger spillway project,” Torgler said, referring to another set of more expensive upgrades. necessary for the emergency spillway, which is currently undersized.

The Sheriff Dam is considered a high-risk dam, which is not a measure of the quality of the structure, but rather values ​​like the houses that would be destroyed if it failed. High danger means lives would be at risk if there were a breach.

The emergency spillway, which allows water to flow around the dam during heavy rains and floods, was built based on values ​​at risk at the time. These values ​​have increased over the years, making the spillway too small for the current high level of risk.

“If we were to receive maximum flood potential, it would likely wash out the dam,” Torgler said. “I don’t mean to be alarmist, but that’s what we’re supposed to prepare for.”

Engineers and city public works personnel as well as officials from the U.S. Forest Service and the Colorado Water Resources Division were at the Rio Blanco County Dam and Reservoir last week for the engineering kickoff design of the new spillway.

This design engineering hopes to better understand what the spillway work might cost. Last year, it was estimated at $13 million, but Torgler was hesitant to put a number on it after seeing how badly the estimates were on the main gate.

“It’s going to be a big lift for this city, because it’s going to cost millions of dollars to fix this problem,” Torgler said. “We will seek funding partners with the state government, federal government and others.”

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