State inspectors make sure dams are up to challenge of spring runoff

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BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. -- The fall floods put stress on many dams in Colorado and now, as communities brace for an above average spring snow melt, state inspectors are making sure the dams are up to the challenge.

Fox 31 Denver News went along on an inspection for a major dam on the Front Range, to find out how some of the state's most critical infrastructure is holding up.

Every year the DNR's Division of Water Resources conducts tests on dams across the state. On Thursday it was time to take a closer look at the Barker Dam near Nederland.

"There's a little cracking in the lamination but not much," said Ryan Schoolmeester, a dam safety engineer for the DNR.

During last fall's flooding nine of the state's low hazard dams failed due to rain that exceeded their limits, but emergency inspections found that all of the state's high hazard dams, like the Barker, did exactly what they needed to.

Months later, the inspectors are back, looking at spillways that are about to be inundated by spring runoff.

"We'll be checking that stuff to make sure that everything still looks as good as this time last year, before the flooding," said Bill McCormick, chief of the DNR's Dam Safety Branch.

The main purpose of the Barker Dam isn't flood control. It actually helps provide water to the city of Boulder, but during last fall's floods it did play an important role.

"There's a distinct possibility that there would have been a lot worse flooding downstream had it not been for the extra storage that was available at Barker," Schoolmeester said.

Maintenance of the dams are up to the landowners. The city of Boulder is constantly monitoring the Barker, and they expect this spring to be a test due to last fall and the heavy snow this winter.

"The streams are going to be a different creature this year and it just remains to be seen how they do during the spring runoff," said Joe Taddeucci, the Water Resources Manager for Boulder.

Thursday's inspection called for just minor fixes to concrete and the removal of debris near the spillway. The dam passed inspection with the same ease that it has handled all the recent water, and that surprised no one.

"It's sort of an affirmation of what our program does," McCormick said.