Wyoming State Legislature Allocates Funds To Replace Unsafe LaPrele Dam

Feb 12, 2021

The LaPrele dam is an Ambursen style dam, which makes it unique.
Credit J. E. Stimson / Wyoming State Archives

The Wyoming State Legislature has approved $24 million for water development. Some of that funding will go towards fixing the unsafe LaPrele dam near Douglas.

The dam was built in 1909. Brandon Gebhart, the director of the Wyoming Water Development Office, said they have found cracks along the structure.

Because of that, the dam can only safely store roughly half of its normal capacity. Gebhart said the structure needs to be either fixed or replaced.

"When they fail, they fail catastrophically. It's not just 'starts with a leak and the leak gets a little bigger and a little bigger and a little bigger,'" he said. "It's believed that these types of dams, once failure occurs, then the entire dam is gone and the whole wall of water behind it is flowing through it."

Gebhart said the preferred course of action is to build a new dam directly downstream from LaPrele. The recent funding allocates around four million dollars that will help with preliminary design and environmental permitting for just that.

Gebhart said there is more and more demand to restore facilities like LaPrele around the state.

"Water is gold essentially. Putting Wyoming's water to beneficial use in Wyoming is important to us," he said. "When we look at the rehabilitation of existing facilities, that does numerous things. It helps conserve water and it replaces aged infrastructure."

Gebhart said projects like the new dam also create jobs in consulting and construction.

Have a question about this story? Please contact the reporter, Ashley Piccone, at apiccone@uwyo.edu.