By Nebraska Game & Parks
Nebraska Game and Parks will decommission and remove the dam at Carter P. Johnson Lake at Fort Robinson State Park for the safety of the public. Once the dam is removed, Soldier Creek will be restored to a natural flowing state.
The 480-foot-long earthen dam, built in 1935, was reclassified as a high-hazard-potential dam in February 2020 by the Nebraska Department of Natural Resources. It has since been found to be deficient in three areas that could lead to its sudden or complete failure. These include:
- a high probability of erosion and failure of the dam’s auxiliary spillway during floods;
- concerns about potential leaks in the spillway conduit running through the dam; and
- the potential for excessive seepage and erosion through an open gravel layer just below the ground surface in the foundation of the dam.
Should the dam fail, the potential for loss of life at Soldier Creek Campground and across U.S. Highway 20, both about 4½ miles downstream, is unacceptable to both Game and Parks and NeDNR.
Since 2020, Game and Parks has worked with engineering and environmental consultants to identify solutions that would avoid removing the dam. Consultants estimated it would cost at least $11 million to replace the dam with a structure that meets the more rigorous design and safety standards required of dams classified as high hazard.
In late 2023, Game and Parks developed plans to safely remove the dam and restore this section of Soldier Creek in a manner that would enhance the trout fishery and public access on portions of the creek above and below the current lake.
“Our goal is to mitigate the loss of Carter P. Johnson Lake with enhanced angling opportunities in Soldier Creek,” said Jim Swenson, Game and Parks deputy director. “Soldier Creek is a popular destination in northwest Nebraska for anglers seeking trout fishing opportunities."
“We know the lake holds a special place in the hearts and minds of those living in northwest Nebraska, the guests who have visited there, as well as staff who have invested time and talent into maintaining the lake and providing fishing opportunities,” he added. “This is a difficult but necessary decision. Fortunately, and thanks to our Fisheries team, we have recently worked to enhance angling opportunities at Fort Robinson and make stream enhancements in the region, each of which offer excellent and diverse fishing opportunities.”
Recent renovations and angler access improvements have been made at the three Ice House Ponds, three Grable ponds and Cherry Creek Pond at Fort Robinson. These built upon already good fishing opportunities at Soldier Creek, Wood Reserve Ponds, White River and Cherry Creek Diversion Pond.
Game and Parks is committed to continuing to provide quality fisheries at lakes and streams throughout the region and will continue to improve access to those water bodies at Fort Robinson SP.
Staff will begin to drain the lake this fall to dry out the lakebed and surrounding soils so the dam can be removed.
Learn more about dam classifications and requirements at dnr.nebraska.gov/dam-safety.