Reclamation outlines plan for dam

Friday, February 19, 2010
Aaron Thompson of the Grand Island office of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation speaks to a crowd at the Red Willow County Fairgrounds Community Building at an open house Thursday night. (Bruce Crosby/McCook Daily Gazette)

Parts of the earthen Red Willow Dam have settled at different rates, creating cracks that will literally take an act of Congress to fix.

And while the lake water level is low, local interest is high, judging by the turnout at a Bureau of Reclamation open house Thursday at the Red Willow County Fairgrounds.

A standing-room-only crowd of up to 140 heard Aaron Thompson of the Grand Island Reclamation office explain how cracks were found in the dam, how the damage was investigated and what will happen next.

No water has actually leaked through any of the cracks, but upon discovery of the first problem, a hole about 18 inches across and four feet deep, crews poured in about 150 gallons of water died deeply blue so the extent of the crack could be investigated.

Engineers are concerned about cracks as thin as one millimeter, Thompson explained; in some cases, cracks in Red Willow Dam were as wide as 12 millimeters.

Thompson used a PowerPoint presentation to illustrate how the pipe used to drain the lake, located on the south end of the dam, was placed on solid bedrock, while the dam immediately adjacent rests on more compressible riverbed material. Differences in the rates of settlement created the cracks.

Following a hunch, officials explored the old stream bed farther north, only to find further cracking.

As a precautionary measure, the lake has been lowered almost as far as it can be, certainly as low as it has been since it was first filled.

Can the dam be repaired economically?

That's what officials will determine by examining alternatives and preparing feasibility designs and costs estimates -- a process that they hope to complete by April.

Repayment technical discussions are already under way, with the Frenchman Cambridge Irrigation District responsible for picking up 15 percent of the cost, and can take up to 50 years to repay.

After a preferred alternative is selected and repayment negotiations are successful, the project must be approved by the federal Office of Management and Budget and go to Congress for approval.

Because funding will be provided under the Reclamation Dam Safety Act, which covers 85 percent of the cost, Congress has 30 days to act once the project is submitted. If it does not act, funding is automatically approved.

Once funding is approved - which officials hope will happen one year from now, the final design will be completed and bids will be solicited for the awarding of a construction contract in the summer of 2011.

Officials taking part in Thursday night's meeting included:

* Aaron Thompsoné Area Manager NKAO

* Kris Mills, Dam Safety Office and Bob Pike, Great Plains Regional Office

* Marv Swanda and Terry Seitz, McCook Field Office

* Mike Delvaux and Jay Leasure, NKAO and Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

* Bill Peck and Mark Rouse, McCook Field Office

* Brad Edgerton, Frenchman-Cambridge Irrigation District

More information is available at

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  • Coyote Country said it best when they asked if this was an informative meeting, or an incredible waste of time.

    I was there, and they blew so much information past people that the whole thing was over in about 15 minutes!

    Yes, they could say it's a safety issue. But realistically speaking, it could be 3 or 4 years before that lake is back to the level it's been at the last few years.

    -- Posted by Justin Case on Fri, Feb 19, 2010, at 2:53 PM
  • *

    As far as information, most of it was in the article in the Gazette a couple days ago about the proposed time schedule.

    I thought it was interesting to really see photos of the problem and details on how the dam was constructed. They did have several of the staff prepared to answer specific questions after the informational part of the meeting.

    Knowing how the government moves on projects, I would expect the lake to not reach normal conservation level for at least 6 years if then.

    Speaking of money on dam projects, the US Army Corps of Engineers just completed a dam stabilization project on Tuttle Creek Dam near Manhattan KS to the tune of nearly $200 Million.

    -- Posted by ksfarmer on Fri, Feb 19, 2010, at 3:23 PM
  • Sounds like the U. S. Bureau of Reclamation and several other goverment groups at work!!!!!

    They have to find something to try and look and act busy, with the Specialists at work. Looks like 5 or 6 groups of officials at the meeting!!!

    Soon they will start arguing and trying to be the most important and be the first one that is right.

    They have to find something to justify their important positions and big paychecks full benefits. This has happened before, "it ain't the first."

    Funny how the problem has grown. The first problem was a small hole ,going to sink holes and then cracks in the dam.

    I sure hope it wasn't a earth quake of a volocano getting ready to errupt.(maybe better get some more specialists involved)

    A few years ago it seems the Enders Dam had a problem like this. Loosing water and they couldnt find out where it was going. Seems like the Officials thought it as a crack and the water was leaking back in the acquafier. After several studies and waisting money and time they said it was evaporation, caused by high temperature readings.

    It will be interesting to watch and see what happens at Red Willow. Tax dollars at work!!!!!!!!!!!

    Sounds like it must have been a real interesting meeting!!!!!!!!!

    -- Posted by Just a reader on Fri, Feb 19, 2010, at 8:00 PM
  • Either tear it down and rebuild it or forget it. Too many people involved and something will be overlooked by putting a bandaid on the dam. All the info at this meeting would confuse anyone. How about plain english???

    It will take five to six years to be like it was even if it was completely rebuilt. Less cost because there will not be as many people involved in rebuilding from the bottom up.

    -- Posted by edbru on Sat, Feb 20, 2010, at 10:50 AM
  • Sounds like the meeting was just what I expected.

    Wish I could have been there too laugh at our Specialists at work.

    I thought it was real funny when, some Engineers and Mr. Aaron Thompson, (Area Manager NKAO) was concerned about the cracks being from 1 to 12 millimeters wide!!!!!! Why use the metric system for measurements, are they from some foreign country or trying too impress the public!!!!! Why not use the American system????

    Maybe some common sense would help solve the problem. I guess Red Willow dam is still in the United States of America

    I hope I can attend some of the meetings they will be having in the future.

    Better than going to a movie or watching TV. I guess the meetings are free, maybe they should start charging addmission, to help offset some of the expenses.

    -- Posted by Just a reader on Sat, Feb 20, 2010, at 11:48 AM
  • actually, its the english system. They have not done a whole lot and you are attacking them allready. Wow, I guess you are in favor of letting the lake become a stream and dont think tey should fix the ****?

    -- Posted by president obama on Sat, Feb 20, 2010, at 3:13 PM
  • What I am saying bigdawg is why confuse people with millimeters. Why not call it a "inch" or a fraction of a inch. If you reasearch it you will see a tape measure measuring inches.

    Yes, the dam should be fixed or repaired if necessary, but why does it take so many different goverment departments to do this and drag it out for several years!!!!!!!

    This has happened before and I think the Red Willow Dam has had problems in the past!!!

    -- Posted by Just a reader on Sat, Feb 20, 2010, at 9:15 PM
  • Well what I get from this is how shortsighted and stupid the decision by the DNR to stop maintaining Swanson and Enders lakes.

    Maybe Ben can get us some Obama money!!

    -- Posted by Chaco1 on Sun, Feb 21, 2010, at 11:26 AM
  • If your bigest problem with the meeting is the unit of measurment used then i would say it was a successful meeting.

    -- Posted by president obama on Sun, Feb 21, 2010, at 8:13 PM
  • Chaco1 - The DNR has nothing to do with the maintenance of Swanson and Enders Reservoirs. That would be the duty of Nebraska Game and Parks, not the DNR.

    Just a reader and edbru - The reason so many government groups are involved is that each group is responsible for different areas. All groups generally work together to protect each others interests and prevent one group from only protecting their area of interest. Game and Parks is concerned with the wildlife and recreation aspects. DNR and and Reclamation are concerned with the safety of the dam, as well as the surface water irrigation the reservoir provides (Frenchman-Cambridge Irrigation District in this instance) The Irrigation District itself has a huge interest and input in this too.

    And as for the metric measurements, it's all relevant, you know it is small, you may not know exactly, but you have an idea. Most labels now show metric and standard measurements, just to refresh your memory 2.54 cm in an inch, 10 mm in a centimeter, nothing difficult about that

    -- Posted by A Common Inquiry on Mon, Feb 22, 2010, at 9:54 AM
  • Ok the G&P looks foolish now for their decision. Putting all their eggs into one basket has come back to bite them.

    -- Posted by Chaco1 on Tue, Feb 23, 2010, at 6:48 PM
  • Grout hole be a good and cheaper alternative way to fix the dam, and that is what they are designed for so they feel the cracks and don't cause future damage to the structure itself.

    -- Posted by Fishing fool on Wed, Feb 24, 2010, at 3:41 PM
  • If you look around a little, Chaco1, in the past, it seems the G & P's is famous for doing foolish things and making lots of mistakes!!!

    I have attented some of their meetings and they always have too have all of the different departments holding hands with each other.

    I liked the statement made by A Common Inquiry::

    All groups generally work together to protect each others interests and prevent one group from only protecting their area of interest.

    If you ask some of the honest employies of the different departments they will tell you what goes on. Seems they have too have lots of things like this trying too justify their jobs and look busy.

    Look around a little and you will see the money spending games they play!!!!

    Why not let the department that is responseable for the dam and its construction fix and repair the dam and fill the lake back full.

    I am sure there are several dirt moving and construction companies that could solve and fix the problems much cheaper and better and quicker.

    Stop playing games, with goverment money and fix the dam!!!!!

    Will be interesting to watch and see what happens!!!!!!!!!!

    -- Posted by Just a reader on Wed, Feb 24, 2010, at 6:01 PM
  • FredBear,

    Attented is spelt "attended"

    Puncuation is spelt "punctuation"

    You should really do a spell check before criticizing someone else's spelling.

    Just saying!!!!!!!!!!!!

    -- Posted by remington81 on Thu, Feb 25, 2010, at 12:26 PM
  • Amen remington81, I doubt that we will hear much more from this college prof. FredBear. I didn't realize that correct grammer punctuation was necessary to express a point. I guess the prof FredBear didn't have anything intelligent to say so he only attacked the messenger. I have to agree with Just a Reader that we need to stick with our measuring system, not with our previous rulers England. I think it was during the peanut farmers tour that they tried to change it the metric system was not adopted, we still have the USA MEARURING SYSTEM!!!!! I'm confused too even though I have spent a lot of time in other countries, the only thing that mattered was Kilometers when I'm driving. Can you imagine trying to remember 2.54 centimeters is equal to 100 meters, oops, I thought a meter was a little over three feet. Help, I'm confused, can someone help me? (Hope this is the correct pronunciation.) My recommendation would just tear the dam down and maintain Swanson and Enders, it will save the taxpayers a lot of money.

    -- Posted by geewhiz on Thu, Feb 25, 2010, at 5:18 PM
  • I'm glad remington81 caught that. Talk about the kettle calling someone black, don't throw rocks if you live in a glass house. Probably won't hear much more out of that idiot. I agree with just a reader, stick with our measurment system. Sure you can buy a tape that has mm on it but why would you want to? I agree with that other person, just tear the dam down, it isn't needed anyway and maintain Swanson and Enders.

    -- Posted by Oh what a wonderful day on Thu, Feb 25, 2010, at 5:24 PM
  • I agree with Just a reader. Maybe he isn't educated or I should say have a college degree but he is probably more educated than some who like to think they are educated just because the have a degree. I know a lot of college educated idiots and believe me it doesn't make you smart just because you went past the eighth grade. Do you thing the people around here went to college? In the early 1900's the eighth grade was the highest level of education and I must say they did a pretty **** good job.

    -- Posted by salamat on Thu, Feb 25, 2010, at 5:31 PM
  • FredBear-

    I will try too spell all the words right and put the (=+0?. , : :% & symbols in the right places!!!!!!!! Sorry, you got so upset!!!!!

    I was shocked too hear from FREDBEAR. Sure isn't the Fred Bear that I have known in the past. 1902-1988.

    I had the pleasure of talking to him one time and asking him advice. I have one of the finest bows that was made by his company and still use it. "Your", sure different than he ever thought of being!!!!!!!!! mmmmm is it "!!!" or "????" or, "" '',,, or none of the above.

    Yes, Fredbear, I went past the 8th grade and have a few degrees that I have earned. But I don't wear them with my name tag, like many do. And, no I am not unemployed. Makes me wonder which of the 5 or 6 goverment departments you might work for

    I was only stating what I feel, what I believe and have seen in the past.

    I got my dictionary out and will try to do better. Sorry Fred.

    -- Posted by Just a reader on Thu, Feb 25, 2010, at 8:13 PM
  • Sweet, looking forward to not "YOUR hear from me".

    I'm thinking us McDonald's cooks are smarter then "YOUR hear" FredBear!

    -- Posted by remington81 on Fri, Feb 26, 2010, at 9:31 AM
  • \Boy and us hicks done gots to wunder wie wee is a wastin so much monne with the gubment fellers makin them desisins.

    -- Posted by Chaco1 on Fri, Feb 26, 2010, at 9:41 AM

    -- Posted by remington81 on Fri, Feb 26, 2010, at 12:40 PM
  • I've seen this before. It was on the SOAP OPERA Network. LMAO

    -- Posted by edbru on Fri, Feb 26, 2010, at 7:51 PM
  • Good heavens! For former McCookites who read this story because of fond memories of our hometown AND the lake, as well as out of concern for the residents and farmers in the downstream area of the dam, having to then witness the complete inability of folks to formulate competent arguments in response is appalling. However, given the choice of having to read your rantings or live below-stream of a dam you have fixed, I'll take your rantings any day.

    -- Posted by bison83 on Wed, Mar 3, 2010, at 10:47 PM
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