Stamford Dam’s Successful Comeback

Jon Albright

When the second worst Texas drought on record was followed by the wettest month in Texas history, the City of Stamford’s California Creek dam, pump station and pipeline performed as planned. Freese and Nichols helped the City design, permit and inspect the dam to divert water from California Creek to Lake Stamford, supplementing the lake’s primary inflow from Paint Creek. 

Project Manager Brian Coltharp led the design team. Project Manager Tom Gooch led environmental permitting for the diversion and our environmental scientists and engineers worked with the Historical Commission and Corps of Engineers to design a structural protection measure for an archeological site, saving several hundred thousand dollars and months of additional work. Construction was completed in 2003 for the dam, pump station and pipeline, located an hour north of Abilene.

In 2005, Project Manager John Rutledge led a hydrological study to inspect and review the dam after a flood, and the team developed an Emergency Action Plan, ensuring the dam was designed for maximum flood protection.

During the drought, City Manager Alan Plumlee ensured that the dam’s pumps were maintained and repaired, and when California Creek rose to a high enough level on Monday, April 27, the City was ready to pump about 5 million gallons an hour into Lake Stamford.

May brought the highest rainfall in Texas history, bringing further relief to the reservoir. The lake is now 81.2 percent full as of June 10, 2015, compared to 11.5 percent one year ago.

Our history with the City of Stamford extends back to 1923, when FNI founder John Hawley and E.E. Sands designed a filter disposal plant for Stamford. Two exerpts from A Century in the Works describe our involvement with the Paint Creek reservoir by Simon Freese, assisted by Jim Nichols in the early stages of his career:

“Stamford voted $750,000 in bonds for a new reservoir and water system additions and asked (Simon) Freese for recommendations. In August 1946, after inspecting potential sites on several streams within a thirty-mile radius of the town, Freese chose Paint Creek. Through the good offices of its consulting engineers, Stamford was able to obtain a 500,000-gallon elevated steel storage tank that had been used at nearby Camp Barkeley.”

“Elsewhere in the state, a dam was closed in 1953 on an important new water supply for West Texas. Lake Stamford, engineered by Freese and Nichols, soon caught enough water despite the drought to amply supply the towns of Stamford, Hamlin, Avoca, and Lueders and a new West Texas Utilities steam-electric generating plant. Sporadic but locally heavy rains filled the new reservoir on Paint Creek to nearly half its 60,000 acre-foot capacity. Some water also caught in Sweetwater’s new 40,000 acre-foot Oak Creek Lake, another Freese and Nichols project in the Abilene area.”