SOUTH FORK — Engineers and staff from Colorado Parks and Wildlife and Colorado Water Resources are draining Rito Hondo Reservoir because the dam is leaking. The water level was dropped significantly through the night on Friday and there is no danger of flooding.
The reservoir, owned by CPW, is located in a remote area of Hinsdale County far from any population centers. Rito Hondo is about 30 miles northwest of South Fork and drains through North Clear Creek which eventually reaches the Rio Grande. State officials fully opened the gates on Thursday to move water quickly out of the reservoir. Rick Basagoitia, area wildlife manager for CPW in the San Luis Valley, explained the agency received a report of a landslide last weekend that might have damaged the dam. CPW and officials from the Colorado Division of Water Resources inspected the dam on Monday and partially opened the outlet gates to lower the water level.
After further inspection later in the week, dam safety officials decided to open the gates fully. Water from the reservoir is used to supplement wildlife habitat in the San Luis Valley. It was built in 1956 and at capacity holds about 500-acre feet of water.
Most recently, the reservoir held about 350-acre feet of water. In 2019, the level of the reservoir was lowered to allow repair of the outlet structure which had deteriorated over the years. The current problem with the dam is unrelated to that work.
When the problem with the dam was discovered earlier this week, CPW worked closely with local emergency management officials to prepare safety and evacuation plans. After the water is drained, engineers will inspect the dam to determine the problem.