Apr 082004
Authors: James Baetke

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

Modification Project.

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,”

Lamb said.

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.

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