Craig State and federal officials mingled with the crowd as the Yampa Valley Boys softly sang about cool, clear water during Wednesday evening's Elkhead dam and reservoir dedication.
About 200 people, from ranchers to residents, gathered at the lake's west boat ramp parking lot to acknowledge the completion of a $31 million project that doubled the size of the reservoir in about 2 1/2 years. During that time, the reservoir had been closed. It reopened earlier in the summer, and Wednesday marked the official dedication.
"This is great," said Bill Trampe, board president of the Colorado River District. "It shows the amount of effort and thought that went into this project. We've got recreational use, water for the endangered fish and water for the future growth of the Yampa Valley."
Trampe credited the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program with contributing money to make the project possible.
"It's always reason to celebrate when you open a dam," he said.
David Smith came to the celebration from Rio Blanco County. He is the former director of the River District board and saw the Elkhead expansion project taking shape in its early years.
"You've got to make so darned many compromises, but it's the only way to get things built these days," he said. "It feels good. This is my second one because I was on the board for Wolford Mountain, too. It gives you a feeling of accomplishment."
Harris Sherman, the Colorado Department of Natural Resources director, said the project was an extraordinary collaboration between state, federal and local officials.
"This project is so important," he said. "It provides necessary water to the city of Craig for future economic development, while supplying water for the Craig Station and for the endangered fish. It made water available to broaden the recreational facilities in the state of Colorado, and achieved a balance between the needs of the people and conservation."
Bill Spicer has been retired for 11 years, but he knows something about the importance of water in Northwest Colorado. He taught vocational agriculture to Future Farmers of America at Moffat County High School for many years.
"Water is a major issue, and it's only going to get more critical," he said. "We need to have a balance of ecology, but we also need another reservoir downstream. If you're going to capture the runoff in the spring, you've got to have a place to store it."
Tom Iseman, Water Program manager with the Nature Conservancy, acknowledged the many groups and organizations that joined to complete the project.
He discussed one fish the expanded reservoir could save from extinction.
"The Colorado Pikeminnow can grow to a length of 6 feet and a weight of 80 pounds," he said. "But it can't survive the low-water levels in the river. This is a special project that marks a new era in the preservation of endangered fish."
Dan Olsen can be reached at 824-7031, ext.207, or email@example.com