The National Guard Comes to Pinon Mesa

Colorado National Guard helps Fruita rebuild dam and meets its training need

By GARY HARMONThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel

Thursday, May 28, 2009

The Colorado National Guard will tackle something new this summer — repairing Fruita Reservoir No. 1.

The Guard’s 947th Engineering Company will repair and improve the old earthen dam that holds back snowmelt until it can be turned to use on the fields and pastures down below.

The mission, though, is to do more than revive the old reservoir.

The project also will help Fruita preserve its rights to the water stored there and could one day pave the way for a park in the high country overlooking the Grand Valley, Fruita Mayor Ken Henry said.

From the perspective of the Colorado National Guard, the project also does double duty.

“Our benefit, besides helping the community of Fruita, is to train our soldiers,” Capt. Ryan Brock said Thursday as National Guard officers, city officials and others toured the reservoir.

Two National Guard Blackhawk helicopters ferried officials from the Fruita Monument High School field to the reservoir high on Piñon Mesa.

The Fruita Reservoir repair is just the first of what National Guard officials hope will be a series of visible projects that will serve multiple purposes of providing training opportunities, aiding public-works projects and showing Coloradans what the National Guard does.

The engineering company will stage equipment on the mesa through June 23, when the company begins work on the dam.

Work is to be complete by Aug. 9, and the reservoir will be off-limits to the public until the job is done.

Soldiers from Grand Junction, Durango and Fort Carson will work to complete the job that officials said would otherwise cost Fruita an estimated $1 million.

The job will be done with two complements of 50 or so soldiers each.

For one three-day period midway through the project, there will be as many as 110 soldiers working at the site and staying in a bivouac a few hundred yards downstream in the woods.

The National Guard will spend about $350,000 on the repair. That’s the same amount it would cost for any training exercise, which the company does once a year anyway, officials said.

At completion, the narrow, sharply sloped dam will be restored and improved with the extension of the back side into a flatter, more stable support structure holding back the reservoir, which can hold back about 140 acre feet of water.

State water officials in 2000 deemed the dam likely to break and ordered Fruita to breach it before Mother Nature did.

Fruita needed to act soon because it was in danger of losing its water right for failure to put it to beneficial use, Henry said.

Fruita, however, had no money to rebuild the dam until the National Guard came along.

“We don’t want to compete against contractors for work,” Brock said, so officials chose to work with other government agencies or nonprofit organizations.

The same unit last year trained in Arizona and many of its members have served in Iraq.

“We’ve been fired on while doing earthwork,” Brock said.

The 947th expects to complete this mission, though, without interference. Planning for the mission includes making sure that bear-attracting trash is placed far from the camp.

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