LARIMER COUNTY, Colo. – If you heard a chorus of cheers up near Cameron Pass just before dawn Thursday morning, it was the sound of joy as workers broke through the mountain, a large step in a project to save drinking water headed for Fort Collins.
For the past four months, crews have been slowly drilling through the mountain to save part of the water supply. The water is runoff from snow melt carried by the Michigan Ditch. A portion of the Michigan Ditch washed away two years ago in a slow moving mudslide that eventually collapsed the ditch.
The 760-foot tunnel is a necessity, according to engineers. It will restore the ditch by linking the upper portion to the lower portion after a mudslide took out a large sections. The ditch brings water into storage reservoirs for the city.
Engineers had been racing to complete the tunnel before the onset of winter, working 24 hours a day in recent weeks.
"It was a race against time," said Owen Randall, chief engineer with the City of Ft. Collins Utilities department.
The tunnel project is estimated to cost about $8.5 million, but Randall said the project, which should be complete in four weeks, appears to be under budget.
"Come back and talk to me in a few weeks, but I think we will be under budget," he said.
The project is expected to save water supplies valued at between $150-$300 million, according to Randall.
"This water is invaluable," Randall said.
Crews started working round-the-clock two weeks ago to get the project done before the snow flies. The project started in mid-May. It sits about two miles off of Hwy. 14 near Cameron Pass at the Larimer County/Jackson County line.
The Michigan Ditch was built before 1900 and carries runoff to the Joe Wright Reservoir on the far western edge of the Poudre Canyon.