Newly repaired dam ready, waiting

Monday, December 16, 2013

A major facility is now back in operation, but will it be allowed to operate?

Congratulations to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and its contractors for completing major repairs to the Red Willow Dam, which impounds water to create Hugh Butler Lake.

Reclamation announced that repairs were "substantially complete" and the road over the crest of the dam was reopened Saturday.

"We are very pleased to announce that the Red Willow Dam repairs have been completed, and public access has been restored to this vital multi-use facility," said Aaron Thompson, area manager for the Nebraska-Kansas Area Office.

"With such a large and diverse group depending on Red Willow Dam for interests ranging from recreation to irrigation, I am proud of the collaborative efforts between Reclamation, local groups and Reclamation's Technical Service Center to ensure the successful completion of this important project," he said.

Besides the road, which is wider and has new guardrails, access roads were widened to make them safer.

Major repairs included excavation of the existing embankment and toe drain system; construction of a filter and drainage blanket; construction of a two-stage sand filder and coarse sand drain system, including a geonet composite membrande; and constrruction of a downstream stability berm.

Modifications also occurred downstream of the spillway and outlet works stilling basins, and limited portions of the upstream dam face. A new drain system at the toe of the dam was constructed and additional monitoring wells were installed.

The whole process started in October 2009, when inspectors discovered a dry sinkhole in the face of the dam, and later cracking in the embankment, which caused the Bureau of Reclamation to drain the lake beginning in 2009.

Following a Corrective Action Study in February 2010 and public input on alternatives, plus congressional approval, a $15.2 million contract was awarded to SEMA Construction of Centennial, Colorado. Work began in December 2012 and was completed this month.

Meanwhile, nearly a year ago, on Jan. 1, 2013, the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources ordered the release of water from four reservoirs in the Republican River Basin, including Hugh Butler Lake, to keep the state in compliance with the Republican River Compact.

Next year has already been declared a Compact Call year, acknowledging regional drought conditions and requiring the same action this year.

Colorado and two Republican River Natural Resources Districts have hit upon a creative way to comply with the Republican River Compact, essentially turning groundwater into surface water, pumping water out of the ground and sending it down the river to meet streamflow requirements.

Lawsuits have challenged the plan and other methods of compliance, and officials expect more to be filed.

Next month, nebraska lawmakers will begin second-round debate on LB522, which would compensate farmers when Nebraska limits or shuts off irrigation in the Republican River Basin.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial, would provide $10 million to pay surface-water irrigators as much as $150 an acre per year for two years as compensation for the loss of water. Some $6.6 million of that would come from a sinking fund the Legislature has been paying into since 2007, and the other $3.4 million from the general fund. It could be increased to as much as $300 per acrea, but lawsuits could complicate the issues.

Meanwhile, when the courts, lawmakers, irrigators and Mother Nature get their acts together, Red Willow Dam is ready and waiting.

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  • Our area will feel the economy grow as the lake fills. The water fights are not just between Kansas, Ne., and Colorado but with the differing NRDs that all take different allotments of water and between surface and ground water users. The "haves" do not want to lose what they have and the "have nots" want more fair treatment. Meanwhile the lakes, rivers, streams and farm ponds dry up. The Aquifer declines. The can is kicked down the road. Will our grandkids' kids have any water?

    -- Posted by dennis on Tue, Dec 17, 2013, at 4:40 PM
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