The federal Bureau of Reclamation says the road across the Box Butte Reservoir Dam on the Niobrara River north of Hemingford will close on Monday and be closed for the next 11 months as part of a multi-million dollar project to renovate the toe drain at the base of the dam.
The closure won’t affect access to campgrounds on the north side of the lake in the Box Butte Reservoir State Recreation Area.
The BOR awarded a $3.6-million dollar contract for the project to Paul Reed Construction to make what the agency calls “some much-needed repairs” to the dam.
Jeff Marks is the project manager for the company and says the project is the result of observations in 2011 that showed the earthen dam, built from 1941-46, has elevated levels of seepage, soft foundation issue, and silt being carried through the toe drain.
Marks says all earthen dams have a toe drain, a perforated pipe running along the base of the dam to collect water seepage and move it downstream. Without them, earthen dams run the risk of becoming weak from water saturation. This project will abandon the existing toe drain pipes and replace them with a new filtered system.
Most of the work at Box Butte Reservoir will take place next year with the company this fall staging equipment and doing dirt work. The project is requiring the level of water in the lake to be held at 3,985-feet…just below the toe drain level and the low point experienced during the 2012 drought. The level was about 3,981 feet during the first week of Octoer, about 12-feet higher than last year.
The BOR, Nebraska Game and Parks, and the Mirage Flats Irrigation District signed an agreement a quarter-century ago that set a minimum pool level to improve the fishery of the lake. Game and Parks plans to take advantage of the lower level to make improvements to the boat ramp at the lake.