The Box Butte Reservoir will have its water levels lowered this week. The level will remain low for at least 12 months, as construction workers repair the dam’s toe drain system.
“For them to be able to complete the work we have to drain the dam down to a level so it won’t create problems for the contractors,” said Brett Skinner, manager at Mirage Flats Irrigation District. “So, we’re in the process of draining the dam.”
The irrigation district also has an agreement with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to not lower the dam level below 3,979 feet. This will be six feet below the toe drain pipe construction level.
The toe drain, a perforated pipe, runs along the base of the dam to collect water seepage and move it downstream. Without toe drains, earthen dams run the risk of becoming weak from water saturation.
“For the safety of the dams and for us to continue to use the Box Butte Reservoir for irrigation it’s a must,” Skinner said. “If not done (construction) they (Bureau of Reclamation) would limit the maximum levels in the reservoir, which would make it useless to provide irrigators with water.”
The Mirage Flats Irrigation District plans to run water through canals and boost the region’s groundwater in October, an effort to address concerns of less water available for agriculture next year.
Paul Reed Construction was awarded the bid for the project and plans to stage equipment and make preparations at the site beginning this fall. Completion is scheduled for fall 2018 and water levels will be allowed to rise after construction.
Some areas near the dam and the road crossing may be subject to closure during periods of construction but public access will be maintained as much as possible. The Game and Parks Commission plans to capitalize on the lake’s low water levels and complete improvements on the boat launch facility.