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Foothills working to refill Beer Sisters Reservoir after dam work

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By Deborah Swearingen

The Beer Sisters Reservoir at Blue Heron Park is on its way to being filled up, but it’s hard to say when it will reach full capacity.

The project to reconstruct a dam, which was completed in August 2018, caused some controversy when neighbors realized the project was finished but the reservoir was not full. Some 640 residents signed a petition urging officials to refill the water in the reservoir.

The petition suggests many were concerned that the county moved forward with the project without purchasing refill water. Those who signed the petition, many of whom frequent the park, were put off by the look of a less-than-full reservoir and worried there could be a health and safety threat.

Prior to draining the water for dam reconstruction, during the planning stage of the project, Foothills Park and Recreation District, who manages the park, learned it did not have the water rights necessary to refill the reservoir. Despite this, the project, which was spearheaded by the Colorado Division of Water Resources and paid for by Jefferson County and the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District, continued to protect surrounding residents should a flood occur.

Foothills estimates the reservoir is about 60 percent full. The park is east of South Simms Street and north of West Bowles Avenue near Westridge Elementary School in South Jeffco.

Back story

Years ago, the dam was deemed unsafe by the Colorado Division of Water Resources.

“Many years ago, because of the size of this dam and the storage facility, it was considered a dam that needed to be monitored and regulated by the state engineer’s office,” said John Conn with Jeffco Transportation and Engineering.

Ultimately, the project made it to the top of the county’s capital improvements list, and Jeffco and the Urban Drainage and Flood Control District shared the $1 million cost. The project included replacing the low-flow outlet structure, the emergency overflow spillway, a drain at the bottom of the dam and rocks to line the shore above the dam, Conn said.

“This dam has a significant positive benefit for flood control and flood storage,” he said. “It has a tremendous benefit to the people living downstream who are Jefferson County residents.

“… The Flood Control District and Jefferson County are concerned and very much want there to be as much safety as possible during a flooding event,” he added.

Additionally, Foothills chipped in $200,000 to update the trail and the bridge at the park. According to Ron Hopp, Foothills executive director, the project would have happened eventually, but the district decided to work on updating the recreational amenities in conjunction with the dam reconstruction.

Water rights

In the meantime, Foothills has been searching for alternative ways to fill the reservoir, including vying for water rights in water court.

The park and recreation district was granted water rights from Coon Creek in 2017, and it expects to have rights from Turkey Creek by the end of the year. Additionally, the district entered into a water conveyance agreement with the Bergen Ditch and Reservoir Co. Furthermore, as part of a substitute water supply plan filed with the state, Foothills has been able to capture water at Beer Sisters while water was released from the reservoir at Clement Park due to a couple of ongoing construction projects there. While the water was not coming directly from the reservoir, the state allowed Foothills to capture water at Beer Sisters while it was releasing water at Clement. That will not last forever, though.

Although the district would like the Beer Sisters Reservoir to be full, water rights are valuable and often complicated. Hopp recognizes that Foothills must allow water to flow through if there are higher priority users downstream.

“There have to be enough flows in order to fulfill everybody’s downstream rights before we get ours,” he said.

Plus, a lot of it is dependent on precipitation and snow runoff.

“We’re confident we’ll be able to get the reservoir filled again sometime. We just don’t know when that’s going to be. … It’s contingent on Mother Nature,” Hopp said.

Editor's note: This article was edited to clarify that Foothills learned it did not have the water rights to refill the reservoir during the planning process and to explain that water for Beer Sisters was not coming directly from the reservoir at Clement Park.