Bear Creek Dam

Bear Creek Dam and Lake was the last of the three dam and reservoir projects built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to collectively lower the risks to the Denver region from flooding that plagued the region for centuries.  When not operating the dam to reduce flood impacts, USACE releases water from this tri-lakes system for recreation, water quality, and to support fish and wildlife.

The River Basin Balancer Game offers insight into an inland waterway and a system of reservoirs, which are operated with a goal for serving each of the benefits, flood control, navigation, hydropower, irrigation, water supply, recreation, fish and wildlife, and water quality, for which many USACE reservoirs are authorized and constructed. Users can take charge of river operations and experience the unique challenges presented when managing reservoir operations in a variety of weather conditions across a geographically diverse basin.

Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers! Prevent invasive species Water Safety Reserve a campsite at USACE campgrounds at Recreation.gov Purchase Navigation and Boating Maps from the Jefferson National Parks Association

Description

Location: Located on the southwest edge of suburban Lakewood at the confluence of Bear Creek and Turkey Creek, the Bear Creek Dam was completed in 1982. The dam consists of an earthen embankment constructed in two segments (the main embankment and the south embankment), an outlet structure for releasing stored water, and a spillway over which excess water can flow during times of extreme runoff from rain and snowmelt.  

Bear Creek Lake, less than 1 mile long with an average depth of 48 feet, drains an area of approximately 236 square miles. The multi-purpose reservoir measures 110-surface-acres and has a storage capacity of 2,000 acre-feet.

Operating for many benefits

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates the dam and reservoir to provide many benefits to the local and regional public, most importantly the reduction of the loss of life and property damage from floods.  

Recreation

Bear Creek Lake Park is managed by the City of Lakewood. Attractions include a campground, fishing and picnic areas, archery range, and a golf course. Winter activities include ice fishing and cross-country skiing.

Reducing Flood Risk

During normal operations, the outlet structure provides water to downstream users and releases are generally less than 100 cubic feet of water per second. One cubic foot of water, or cfs, is equal to 7.5 gallons. As operations shift to reducing flood risks during periods of high runoff, the outlet structure is used to manage the reservoir elevations and can release up to 2,100 cfs. The spillway was designed to additionally pass up to 153,500 cfs. For perspective, the largest release of water from Bear Creek Dam as a result of flooding was approximately 800 cfs from the outlet structure in 1980. It is important to understand that the dam is designed to pass up to 155,100 cfs when necessary and that this dam-or any other dam-does not eliminate flood risk.

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As part of its Dam Safety Program, Omaha District conducts detailed engineering analyses to ensure its dams reduce risks to the public, property, and the environment to the extent possible. Dam safety standards and practices are continually updated to improve the maintenance and operation of dams to ensure they can reliably serve their original purposes. In addition, dam safety engineers across federal and state agencies share information as they learn about the performance of flood risk reduction structures built over many decades. They now use more precise, modern technologies and apply up-to-date science to reduce flood risk more effectively. Bear Creek Dam is operating as designed but in the unlikely case of uncontrolled reservoir releases, consequences could impact downstream populations, including numerous urban centers along the South Platte River. 

While USACE continually evaluates how to further reduce the risks associated with its dams, several risk reduction measures were completed at Bear Creek, including improvements to runoff forecast models in coordination with the National Weather Service to accelerate public warnings from local emergency management agencies.  Visit the National Inventory of Dams to learn more about how dams work and Bear Creek Dam’s risk assessments.

Bear Creek Pool Elevations