REDMESA – A ceremonial load of dirt was dumped Thursday to mark the end of construction of the Long Hollow Dam.
The brief topping-out observation was attended by members of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, which helped fund construction, and Brice Lee from La Plata Water Conservancy District, which sponsored the project.
The reservoir behind the dam will store 5,300 acre-feet of water from Long Hollow Creek and Government Draw to support area irrigators and help Colorado meet its obligation to share La Plata River water with New Mexico.
“It couldn’t come at a better time,” Lee said. “At the Colorado Cattlemen’s Association meeting (Wednesday) in Colorado Springs, the big topic was water.
“We need more storage statewide,” Lee said. “There’s very little storage on the South Platte (River), so we’re losing water to Nebraska.”
The dam is adjacent to Colorado Highway 140, about four miles north of the New Mexico border.
Manuel Hart, chairman of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribal Council, and four council members also watched the end of the construction phase of the project, which began two years ago.
“I want to congratulate the Weeminuche Construction Authority on a job well done,” Hart said. “We are dam builders.”
The Weeminuche Construction Authority is a tribal entity responsible for the Animas-La Plata Project, the Captain Tom Dam for the Navajo Nation in New Mexico and the Tsaile Dam for the Navajos in Arizona.
The idea for the Long Hollow project resulted from the removal of an irrigation water component in the Animas-La Plata Project 20 years ago, Lee said.
“What we saw made us decide to start looking for our own water,” Lee said.
When the A-LP was downsized, the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority set aside $15 million for projects in the area. Accrued interest, $3 million from the Ute Mountain Utes and $1.575 million approved this year by state legislators funded the project.
The construction engineer is Rick Ehat, who righted the teetering Animas-La Plata Project to bring it to completion on time and on budget.
The dam is 151 feet high with a span of 800 feet. A central clay core is supported upstream and downstream by tons of sand, rocks and dirt.
Aaron Chubbuck, Weeminuche project manager, said the dump trucks used during construction covered the equivalent of 10 trips around the world at the equator (about 250,000 miles).
Finishing touches remain. Sensors will be placed on the face of the dam to record possible movement or leakage, and electrical and hydraulic lines will be installed to operate the intake gate and valves on the downstream side.
The “borrow areas” from where construction materials were taken will have to be revegetated.
Accompanying Hart were Ute tribal councilors Priscilla Blackhawk-Rentz, DeAnne Wall, Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk and Malcolm Lehi.