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Barker Dam annual spillover

Watching the water The Kavanagh family caught the annual spillover on Monday, May 22, 2023, at 8:58 a.m. PHOTOS BY TOM AND TERRI KAVANAGH

Watching the water: The Kavanagh family caught the annual spillover on Monday, May 22, 2023, at 8:58 a.m. PHOTO BY TOM AND TERRI KAVANAGH

Hannah Connell and Ezra Barker, a local businessman and rancher, married in 1877. After the passing of Barker in 1883, Mrs. Barker continued to run the ranch they owned. By the start of the 20th century, the Central Colorado Power Company (CCPC) wanted to purchase the Barkers’ ranch.

The CCPC had hoped that by purchasing the ranch, it could build a dam by flooding the land, creating the reservoir to provide electricity to nearby mining communities and Denver. With the power of eminent domain, the right of a government or its agent to expropriate private property for public use, with payment of compensation, Barker was forced out.

Though Barker never cared for the idea of a reservoir and had refused to sell to the CCPC, she was the inspiration for the Barker Reservoir name. Construction of the Barker Reservoir began on Middle Boulder Creek.

By 2001, the reservoir was purchased by the City of Boulder, along with its dam, the Kossler Reservoir, the pipelines, and the Boulder Canyon Hydro Electric Plant. Today, Barker Reservoir is responsible for 40% of the City of Boulder’s water supply.

Due to its limited storage capacity, the reservoir is not a flood control facility. But its sheer power and magnificence are demonstrated during the Barker Reservoir annual spring spillover.

So what triggers this remarkable occurrence? Every spring, temperatures warm, snow melts, and rain falls, increasing the flow and levels of water. The water falls along the Continental Divide and the high peaks, producing enormous amounts of water.

As the water tumbles down the hillsides, it’s captured and stored in mountain dams, like the one at Barker Reservoir. Due to their design and limited storage space, once the dams reach designated water levels, the excess water spills, making its way downstream.

The cascading water from Barker makes its way to the Kossler Reservoir, where the torrent of water drops another 1,828 feet to the hydroelectric plant at the base of Boulder Canyon.

The Barker Reservoir spillover drastically increases the flow of Boulder Creek, making it that much more beautiful yet dangerous. Community members are reminded to take extra caution during high flow periods, which can last several weeks.

The Barker Reservoir spillover usually takes place sometime between mid-May and early June, depending on weather, snowpack, and spring reservoir levels. This year, the spillover occurred on Monday, May 22, 2023.

Did you experience the spillover this year? Share your photos with The Mountain-Ear and if your photo gets chosen, you will receive a special gift! Email info@themountainear.com.