New Water for Baca County at Two Buttes Dam

Two Buttes Reservior (2)Volunteers in Baca County are providing traffic control while some road work and grading is being done at the Two Buttes Dam.  The Dam has had an unprecedented amount of water this past summer, due to several monsoonal rains which swept through sections of southeast Colorado.  A town hall meeting was called in August due to safety concerns should the dam fail to hold the increase in water.  A proposal to release the water was met with numerous voiced concerns, such that the Division of Parks and Wildlife decided to open a spillway to maintain a water level of 32 feet, an increase from the proposed 20 feet that coincided with the level set in 1983.  The dam is about 100 years old and there were concerns that a breach could threaten life downstream, even though the impact would have encompassed one household.  The current water level as of August 30 is 30’4” and is holding steady according to DPW officials.

Two Buttes Reservoir 4The next step to satisfy safety concerns on the spillway is to widen its width from 80 to about 120 feet.  Volunteers stepped forward with earth moving equipment and citizens who would assist as flaggers for vehicle control.  Prior, it was estimated that it would take two years to begin moving dirt.  State engineers opened the floodgate at the spillway, but because of the age of the equipment, were able to get a six inch opening while provided some relief.  Plans call for a diver to seal up a crack this fall, using a special polymer coating.  Long range plans, if funding is available, is to replace the manually operated spillway with a push-button hydraulic system.

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The increase in water levels has developed into a renewed popularity.  The first summer storm brought the waters up to 14 feet, and boaters were noted out on the water, navigating around debris that developed from the first water swell.  A second storm added 19’ 17” and for a while, water was over CR10, or Highway 101, flowing toward Las Animas, estimated at 29,000 cubic feet per second and almost a mile wide.  It took about six hours for the water to reach highway 287, adding another 1.5 feet per hour to a final depth at the dam of 33.5 feet.  It was at that point that the spillway was opened.  The current dam was built to withhold waters similar to the 1965 flood.

Plans call for 60,000 cubic yards to material to be removed and install a new floodgate in front of the current two in place.  The lake, however, will need to dry out considerable before this can be accomplished.  This will take place on its own, as the Department of Parks and Wildlife decided not to drain the lake.  As a safety concern, the Black Hole has been closed to the public.  Fast moving water has undercut some of the banks at a 30 feet level and there is fear it could collapse.  There were also some blowouts noted along the canal which are being repaired.

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Aaron Bartleson of the DPW for Southeast Colorado said there has been an increase in the numbers of fish and other aquatic life since the flooding.  “Two types of fresh water shrimp have been noted and the water is rich in nutrients which mean a lot of future growth,” he explained.  He expected some types could add an inch a month to their length.  Plans call for stocking with large and small mouth bass, crappies, bluegill and wipers, plus some forage fish such as shad and trout this fall and catfish and walleye in the spring.  Bartleson noted that if the water levels hold, the lake will act as a fishery for decades.

By Russ Baldwin

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