Over the past few summers, dirt and tumbleweeds were more
abundant than water in Horsetooth Reservoir, but after about three
years of revamping and modernization, the reservoir is surging
The reservoir’s owner, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, spent $56
million rebuilding four aging dams under the Horsetooth Dams
In order to work on the dams, the reservoir’s water was dropped
to 10 percent of capacity, leaving docks dry and recreation
Now that most of the work is done, officials are hoping to bring
in lost revenue and plenty of visitors.
Larimer County Parks and Open Land, which manages the
recreational sector of the reservoir, estimated that at least $3
million in visitor fees were lost, and are now hoping to lure
visitors back to the reservoir with the replenished water.
Larimer County Parks took advantage of the reservoir’s dry
summers to polish up campsites and to build new ones.
“Horsetooth Reservoir, I think, has never looked better,” said
Mark Caughlan, Horsetooth district manager for Larimer County
The Bureau of Reclamation began the dam project when water
seepage from the reservoir was discovered in the late 1990s, said
Kara Lamb, public information coordinator for the Bureau of
Lamb said that because the limestone foundation at the bottom of
the reservoir was leaking water the government decided to fund a
modernization project, fixing four dams that were not in any danger
but could use an upgrade any way.
Lamb said Northern Colorado and the city of Fort Collins have
been subject to a negative economic impact.
Three years later, and with warmer weather ahead, people are
already wading in the benefits. The reservoir is at record levels
and has recently been filled to 100 percent capacity.
“People are already enjoying Horsetooth. We are at full capacity
because we need to make sure these dams are at their full range,”
For Fort Collins, Horsetooth is one of the main drinking-water
sources, provides aid to agricultural irrigation and also provides
water for regional industries.
According to the Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District,
the reservoir is filled primarily from the Colorado River
headwaters on the West Slope. In 1987, the Bureau of Reclamation
turned over operation and maintenance to the conservancy
The conservancy district said the reservoir is the No. 1
recreation area in Larimer County and more than 500,000 people
visit each year to fish, boat and camp.
Jackson Blythe, a Loveland resident, said he has been fishing at
Horsetooth for 14 years and said it is home to some of the best
smallmouth bass fishing in Northern Colorado.
“(I’ve been) fishing Colorado for years. Horsetooth has yet to
disappoint me,” Blythe said.
Caughlan said Horsetooth has implemented two new programs to
better serve its customers. Camping reservations are now being
accepted, and three new cabins have been built to better serve
outdoorsman in the reservoir’s South Bay area.
Lamb warns that there are new traffic restrictions that
reservoir incomers need to be aware of. Because recently a drunk
driver struck a reclamation worker, the bureau has opted to keep up
barriers on roads near the dams to regulate driving while the
24-hour monitoring process continues on the dams.
Additionally, Lamb warns that large heavy trucks may want to
check and make sure the vehicle weight does not interfere with
national security measures against terrorism.
No recreation is allowed on dams themselves because of terrorism
prevention measures by the government.