EL PASO COUNTY — Work on resurfacing the Crystal Reservoir dam at the base of Pikes Peak is finally underway. It was supposed to be completed and the reservoir refilled a year ago. The delay is an outcome of the pandemic and then supply chain issues.
The dam has been helping store the Colorado Springs water supply for nearly nine decades. “Been in existence since 1935,” said Colorado Springs Utilities, Chief Dam Safety Engineer, Bill Sturtevant. Because of regular maintenance it is still holding strong and will be around decades more.
“We started draining in 2020,” said Colorado Springs Utilities, Project Manager, Larysa Voronova. The reservoir was emptied so the dam’s rare steel face could be inspected, repaired, and resurfaced with specialized sealant.
A portion of the work did happen in the tunnel under the base of the dam. 50 year old pipes and fittings were replaced.
Work to resurface the dam’s steel face got delayed first because of the pandemic. Then a second time because of supply chain issues for the specialized sealant. One of the ingredients used to get the coating to harden was unavailable. “The manufacturer who makes the special coating product could not get it anywhere in the world,” said Voronova.
Applying the coating requires a precision process. It starts with completely removing the previous coating. “The blast finish has to be absolutely perfectly clean, no residue, no dust, nothing, just bare metal,” said Sturtevant. Crews work in enclosed areas to keep any debris from falling into the water below. It also protects the newly cleaned area from the elements.
The new coating is applied with no delay. “They have to coat the same day. It cannot sit overnight,” said Sturtevant, “We don’t want dust, we don’t want any rust, any condensation, it has to be done same day.”
The process is also temperature sensitive. It means there is a window from late May to early November to complete the work.
The maintenance is for the safety of the community below the dam. It is also protection of the water supply that becomes more and more precious in drought years and as the state’s population grows.
The plan is to finish work by November and get enough water back in the reservoir to cover the structure where water comes in and is released from the dam. “In order to protect the intake structure here from freezing,” said Sturtevant.
Questions about how long until the reservoir is fully refilled and recreation returns get broad nonspecific answers. “We’re hoping that 2023 we can open fishing season,” said Voronova. That leaves a year long window.
Sturtevant said if there is plenty of run-off water can rise as much as a foot a day in the reservoir. Low run-off is also possible. “We can sit here and guess all day, but Mother Nature’s going to be the ruling factor.” When the reservoir is refilled, the newly refurbished dam face should be good for another 50 years.
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