Colorado Dam Safety

Colorado Dam Safety

Colorado laws governing dam and reservoirs were enacted to protect lives and property due to potential hazards associated with the storage of water in the reservoir behind a dam. The owner, or developer, of a dam is responsible for the safe storage of water impounded in the reservoir. There are a number of dams across Colorado that all meet safety requirements assigned by law. In this article, we’re exploring those laws, safety regulations, maintaining and servicing dams appropriately, and possible dangers that come with haphazard dam construction.

Gracon LLC is a premier provider and general contractor delivering world-class construction services for a variety of markets including dam rehabilitation. Since 1981 we’ve provided superior dam construction services that meet required laws and regulations as declared by Colorado state. Contact us for more information on the services we can carry out for existing or new dam construction throughout Colorado.

Colorado Construction and Existing Dams

The Colorado River is 1,450 miles long. It is the only major river for the southwest states. It provides drinking water for over forty million Americans as well as residents of two Mexican states. It also irrigates nearly six million acres of land.

Annually, sixteen and a half million acre-feet of the river’s water are portioned out to the 246,000 square miles of the Colorado Basin states and Mexico.

The Colorado River drains rain and melting snow from the Western side of the Rockies. Not surprisingly, there are times of the year when deluges of water threaten to flood land in the foothills.

colorado dam construction

Importance of Dam Construction and Dam Safety

While flooding is a major reason for dam construction providing humans with a clean, safe, reliable source of fresh water is crucial. Southwest USA is arid. Water for drinking, irrigation, and the industry is often scarce. There are long periods without rain.

Building a dam across a river, allows residents to hold back some of the Colorado River’s water. In this way, the Colorado Dam system can reserve enough water to withstand the dry season.

Building the dam system prevented land upstream from flooding. Downstream land also received less water, fewer floods, and a steady water supply. Colorado dam safety is extremely important to the continued use of these dams. Proper care is critical when considering how dangerous it can be for disastrous construction errors to occur.

Colorado Dams

So, in 1922, dams to control flooding of the Colorado River were planned by a group known as the Colorado River Compact. This series of dams was intended to control floods and make sure there was a steady supply of water to the southwestern states.

The Colorado dams that evolved from this project stretched from seven southwest states to two northwest Mexico states.

There are fifteen dams on the Colorado River and hundreds more along the tributaries. The largest ones are over twenty-five feet tall and store over fifty thousand acre-feet of water.

These Upper Basin dams include:

  • The Parker Dam straddles California and Arizona.
  • The Hoover Dam serves Nevada and California.
  • Glen Canyon Dam is in Arizona.
  • Grand Valley Conversion Dam, Granby Dam, Blue Mesa Dam, Green Mountain Dam, and McPhee Dam are in Colorado.
  • The Navajo Dam is in New Mexico.


colorado dam

Dams on the lower basin through Arizona include:

  • Bartlett Dam
  • Mormon Flat Dam
  • New Waddell Dam
  • Painted Rock Dam
  • Theodore Roosevelt Dam

Colorado Dams Governing Bodies

According to the terms of the 1922 Colorado River Compact, seven states entered into an agreement. These states included: Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming.

The Bureau of Reclamation reports that these upper and lower basin states have beneficial interests in the Colorado River dams. In addition, the United States and Mexico entered into a treaty in 1944. This treaty guarantees Mexico 1,500,000 acre-feet of water from the Colorado River water annually.

Dangers of Dams

As writer Bruce Finley pointed out in The Denver Post article climate change is a major safety concern. In fact, engineers for the Colorado Division of Water Resources’ Dam Safety division, are rethinking how to accommodate aging structures that they fear will be unsatisfactory to meet rising waters. Climate shifts have produced extreme storms. At least twenty-seven dams and their ability to deal with water surges have engineers worried.

In 2019, CPR News reported that twenty-four dams were high-hazard locations.

These dams’ failures had the potential to kill people. The Colorado dams ranged from forty-one to over a hundred years old. They serve as drinking water, irrigation, and recreational sources.

Besides climate changes that have stressed the system and a dam system that is aging, there are other dangers. Silt collects in lake bottoms creating energy inefficiency. Concrete degradation affects dam stability. Animal and plant material threaten the smooth running of water. Unstable dam abutments problems affect the safe operation of the dam.

colorado dam safety

Necessary Maintenance Measures

The Bureau of Reclamation is part of the US Department of the Interior. It is responsible for administering and overseeing the necessary maintenance of the Colorado River dam system. It is estimated that the system’s lifespan should be between five hundred and seven hundred years.

A regular thorough inspection by knowledgeable professionals is critical to ensuring potential problems are uncovered. A maintenance plan troubleshoots and alleviates problems before they arise. Proper repairs are vital to keeping Colorado dams functioning safely.

It is also important that dams be maintained within the safety regulations.

Dam Safety & Maintenance Operations

The cost of regular maintenance and repair must be tabulated and allocated so that repairs are timely and thorough. Without a detailed fiscal plan, no maintenance schedule can be carried out.

Constant vigilance is the price of survival. Early detection of deficiencies avoids potential failures. Dam maintenance must begin as soon as the dam is constructed and extend until the dam is deemed no longer useful. Regular inspection, maintenance, and repair can significantly extend the life of a dam. To do this, detailed operations and maintenance programs must be set in place. This program must include thorough, routine inspections by knowledgeable professionals.

The operations and maintenance program document will ensure that each dam is performing safely according to its design and purpose. 

The plan must include procedures essential to efficient dam operation. The reliable upkeep of the dam includes preventative measures performed routinely. Included in regular maintenance should be dam servicing to avoid over-vegetation, deterioration of equipment, interference by wildlife, and other issues that might result in dam malfunctioning, mechanical failure, or flooding. Ideally, maintenance will ensure that these are corrected before failure occurs.

Preservation of the structure of the dam and its function is an important part of dam safety.

Implementation of consistent and routine inspections and maintenance should include a record of dam conditions. From this data, signs of potential safety risks should be evident. Early detection can avoid potential disasters.

Maintenance Services

Colorado dam safety is crucial. Maintenance of the Colorado Dam system requires engineering professionals who specialize in dam construction, dam maintenance, and dam repairs. Companies like Gracon, LLC provide construction and rehabilitation services to dams and hydroelectric plants. Qualified, experienced professionals analyze the problem and offer maintenance services. Quality workmanship and safe execution of the maintenance project are guaranteed.