State to inspect 200 dams in 10 days

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FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- The spillway of Parvin Reservoir near Fort Collins continues to flow fast, even two weeks after heavy rains.

The dam, which is used for recreational fishing, is on the list of nearly 200 dams in northern Colorado slated for inspection within 10 days.

Normally, state engineers will review 80 dams in a given year, but with the recent heavy rains Gov. John Hickenlooper wants reassurances that dams affected by recent rains are safe.

A team of engineers from the state, and some from a private company, who volunteered their own time, went around the Parvin Reservoir dam’s perimeter Wednesday looking for any instability and new erosion.

Heavy rains raised the level of Parvin an extra foot, adding 20 million gallons of water to the normally tranquil reservoir.

“It is extra pressure on the dam and it’s basically the higher water surface elevation the dam may have not seen before,” said Jeremy Franz, a dam engineer for the state of Colorado.

Dams are given three ratings: High Hazard, Significant and Low Hazard. These ratings aren’t about the current condition of the dam, but about what would happen if there was significant damage.

A breach of water or damage to a High Hazard bridge would result in loss of life and property. In the Significant rating, it would cause property damage and for the Low Hazard rating it would result in minor erosion around the dam.

“That’s the story here. The Significant and High hazard dams functioned the way they were designed to and we haven’t had any issues so far,” said Franz.

He added nine Low Hazard dams have been damaged -- the majority of them near Estes Park and one on Pikes Peak.

“We’re not out of the woods yet. That’s why these inspections need to occur, to make sure no latent conditions that are late to develop are out there that would threaten the safety of the dam,” he said.

As of Wednesday night teams planned to work through the weekend to get inspections done by the beginning of next week.

Any dam requiring repairs will have to have water levels lowered, ordered by the state.

Franz said it’s a costly process, not only because of the repairs, but because the owner will lose valuable water.