Reclamation outlines plan for dam
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 http://www.usbr.gov/gp/nkao/redwillow/