Upper Bear Creek near Meadowbrook Lane. Video via Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department
Anyone who saw videos of Bear Creek cascading over Evergreen Dam and raging through downtown Evergreen Friday, flooding and damaging roads as it slammed through Kittredge into Morrison, would have been amazed to see the same stream just below Bear Creek Dam, some 15 miles away, where it was low, clear and docile.
Bear Creek Lake is perhaps the lesser known of the Tri-Lakes, including Chatsfield and Cherry Creek, built by and maintained by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to help provide flood protection for Metro Denver.
Bear Creek Dam caught the brunt of Bear Creek flooding, sending the water elevations in the lake to a record high 5593.2 feet at midnight Sept. 16, eclipsing the old record set in 1995 by more than six feet. Put another way, the reservoir surface rose 43 feet during the fury of the storm and its aftermath.
“The dam did what it was built to do,” said Fred Rios, Tri-Lakes operations project manager for the Corps. “We didn’t want to add any additional water downstream so we held it at Bear Creek.”
Rios said rain also fell above Cherry Creek and Chatsfield, but nothing like the Bear Creek drainage, which covers approximately 236 square miles. And, of course, by far the worst of the epic flooding was further north.
On Monday, the Corps did begin relieving Bear Creek Lake at 250 cubic feet per second, Rios said. But that water will not add to the ongoing eastern plains flooding, as it has been claimed by irrigation districts downstream from Denver and Henderson and will be diverted from the South Platte River.
Bear Creek Dam is located between U.S. 285 and Morrison Road just west of Kipling.