A truly Colorado celebration: The 70 Ranch Reservoir is full

The 70 Ranch Reservoir in Weld County is now full.
The 70 Ranch Reservoir in Weld County, which celebrated its grand opening nearly one year ago, is full. A wet fall and spring moved up expectations it would take from two to five years to fill the reservoir.

KERSEY, Colo. -- It took less than a year for what looked like an enormous large black hole to be filled with blue sparkling water. 

Here’s to the 70 Ranch Reservoir, which as of this week now holds close to 5,550 acre-feet of water.

The reservoir is the brainchild of Bob Lembke, president of the Weld Adams Water Development Authority, or WAWDA.

I’ve always said that we don’t have a water shortage problem in Colorado, we have a water storage problem,” Lembke said. “With this reservoir, we can store water for those times and seasons when we need to sustain agriculture and our communities."

The gauge at the 70 Ranch Reservoir, whiich holds around 5,500 acre feet of water, was full this month, ahead of schedule.
The gauge at the 70 Ranch Reservoir, whiich holds around 5,500 acre feet of water, was full this month, ahead of schedule. 

The grand opening for the reservoir on May 15, 2019 attracted business leaders, lawmakers, farmers and water experts  

The reservoir, located in Weld County near the South Platte River and Lembke’s 70 Ranch, took three years to build.

More than 3 million cubic yards of dirt were removed and the pit was lined with 7 million square feet of a synthetic material. Before that lining could go down, the weeds needed to be destroyed. But nobody would want to use a herbicide on a water project so a line of 30 workers walked, handpicked and smoothed the ground. 

“This is truly a visionary project,” said Rep. Lori Saine, R-Firestone, who at the grand opening helped turn the wheel that allowed the first water to trickle into the reservoir.

“So few people nowadays think a lot about the generations ahead of us. We’re already behind in our water needs. So this is one of projects that will help fill that water gap not only for agriculture but also for our towns and our cities,” she said at the time.

A month later, Water Education Colorado visited the reservoir as part of its tour of the South Platte River basin. WAWDA's project manager, Drew Damiano, explained the importance of the reservoir to  lawmakers, lobbyists and reporters on the tour. 

“Our water system in Colorado is very complicated,” he said. “What we’ve done here is acquire certain water rights throughout the entire region. We store that water here or other vessels that we have. We utilize the infrastructure to have the water in the right place at the right time.”

It used to be that federal and state government paid for huge water projects in the West, but environmental concerns and lawsuits delayed projects. That led to private construction.

Weld Adams Water Development Authority officials thought it might take two to five years to fill the reservoir, but a wet fall and springs moved up the timetable. That was of interest to state Treasurer Dave Young, a Greeley Democrat, who attended the grand opening. He  looks at the financial health of the state, and said he is concerned about a recent report by the American Society of Civil Engineers. Colorado didn't fare well, including in areas such as drinking water and dams. 

"We should utilize what we've learned on this project," Young said today. "The technologies used at the reservoir are ones that we should think about with projects for the rest of the state."

State Treasurer Dave Young, center, with Ron VonLembke and Bob Lembke.
State Treasurer Dave Young, center, talked about Colorado's water issues when he attended the grand opening of the 70 Ranch Reservoir in 2019 with Ron VonLembke, left, and Bob Lembke, right.