Colorado's Pine Brook Dam was completed a year ahead of schedule and $1 million under budget, proving how effective design-build can be for dam construction. The Class 1 dam holds 100 acre-feet under normal conditions and up to 137 acre-feet at flood stage. The column in the center is the overflow outlet leading to conduit beneath the dam. Photos: Bob Olliver

Robert de Haas, manager and 20-year veteran with Pine Brook Water District, faced daunting challenges as he measured up to his "Dam Boss" hardhat.

First, he led the district, which serves 400 residences located a mile above Boulder, Colo., in obtaining approval for the Class 1 dam and reservoir in a staunchly environmentalist county.

Next, he oversaw the design and construction, saving at least $1 million on the $4.5 million project and a year in construction time.

County commissioners approved the dam application in a mere five months, less time than it takes to obtain a permit for building a home on mountain property. Then the water district shortened the design and construction sequence for the 100-acre-foot reservoir and dam to 18 months using a design-build approach, a unique delivery method for dams.

Streamlined Application Process

This small mountain water district made bold decisions, and then acted. Before asking for the county commissioners' approval, the district went to residents with a bond election and obtained a 75% approval rating.

"This told the commissioners we had the backing of the community and could pay for the project,"says de Haas.

Another smart move was to commission Denver-based ERO Resources Corp. to perform an environmental study before applying for a 1041 permit. (The $50,000 study was paid for out of general obligation bonds.) When Boulder commissioners doubted the water district's study, they commissioned one of their own. Their study mirrored the water district's: The proposed dam would have no significant negative impact on the environment.

The project being visible only within the Pine Brook community also helped speed up the application process. And when commissioners realized the reservoir's storage capacity would allow the Pine Brook Water District to let twice the amount of water pass by on one of its withdrawal streams, that clinched the approval.

Another positive decision of de Haas and the board was to make the presentation themselves instead of hiring a public relations firm and "having it come off like a sales pitch." They presented the hour-long PowerPoint presentation first to community residents and answered their questions, then tailored the presentation for county commissioners covering every possible angle: need, alternatives that had been considered, alternative sites, visibility, and community support.

Combined Cost Savings

Since Colorado requires bidding on public projects of more than $50,000 in value, the Pine Brook Water District pre-qualified four contractors and asked them for design-build proposals with an estimated price. De Haas and the district selected the team of Pueblo-based ASI Constructors Inc. as general contractor with Denver-based TCB/AECOM for design based on qualifications and lowest bid.

The contractor took the lead in this design-build team. The engineer was paid by ASI Constructors and was directly responsible to ASI. In traditional design-bid-build, the engineer is paid by and responsible to the project owner. The engineer then works with the contractor to make sure the project is built to design specifications.