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Frisco’s 'Big Dig' lays the foundation for improved marina at Dillon Reservoir

How Denver Water helped pay for long-planned changes to improve boating, paddling at the reservoir.

Excavation to lower the bottom of Dillon Reservoir around the Frisco Bay Marina started in March. Photo credit: Sonya Doctorian.


The Frisco Bay Marina at Dillon Reservoir will be safer for boaters and look a lot different this summer, following a massive makeover during the spring months that Denver Water helped pay for.

On March 4, the Town of Frisco started excavating the reservoir’s lakebed, accessible because of the reservoir’s low water level during the winter months. The excavation will move about 85,000 cubic yards of dirt, lowering the level of the lakebed around the marina up to 13 feet.

Some of the dirt from the excavation — which has been dubbed Frisco’s “Big Dig” — will be used to expand the beach and fishing areas near the marina. Some of it will become the foundation for three new acres of land that will be developed in the future.

The goal of the $4 million construction project is to improve navigation at the marina, improve safety, and lengthen the boating season by up to a month. Town officials expect to cut the ribbon on a relocated and expanded boat ramp June 1 at the marina’s annual “Rock the Dock” party.

It takes some big equipment with big wheels to dig 85,000 cubic yards of dirt from the lakebed of Dillon Reservoir, as part of upgrades at the Frisco Bay Marina. Photo credit: Sonya Doctorian.


“The marina is such a gem for our community and visitors and investing in the marina is a priority for the town,” said Diane McBride, Frisco’s assistant town manager and director of recreation.

Dillon Reservoir’s primary function is to catch and hold water that will be used to supply drinking water to Denver Water’s 1.4 million people in the city and surrounding suburbs. But the utility also tries to manage the reservoir to support recreation at the Frisco and Dillon marinas, which have an economic impact in Summit County.

“The project means a lot to Frisco and will be a great improvement to the marina. It’s a great example of the partnership that exists between Frisco and Denver Water,” said Brandon Ransom, Denver Water’s recreation manager.

Stand-up paddleboarders enjoy time on the water near the Frisco Bay Marina on Dillon Reservoir. Photo credit: Todd Powell.


The reservoir’s water level follows a cyclical pattern through the year, rising as snow melts in the spring and dropping through the summer, fall and winter months as the stored water is used to meet Denver’s water demand.

The Frisco Bay Marina is popular in the summer with kayakers, canoers, paddle boarders and also those with larger motorboats and sailboats. But in the past, Frisco’s marina staff have had to move the docks at the marina on an almost daily basis during early and late summer as reservoir levels fluctuate.

“We chase the water by moving the docks at the marina, sometimes every day during the summer, to ensure people have access to the reservoir,” McBride said.

The Big Dig will lower the lakebed around the marina below the level of Dillon’s spillway, meaning water levels will be deep enough around the marina to accommodate larger boats throughout the summer.

A conceptual drawing of the new Frisco Bay Marina area. The deeper area south of the docks will be dedicated to larger sailboats and motorboats, while the north side will be dedicated to canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. Image credit: Town of Frisco.


“By having a longer season and better beaches, the area will be a better amenity for our community and the visitors who come to our town from across the county and Denver,” McBride said.

Denver Water’s involvement in Frisco’s Big Dig stems from the groundbreaking Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, signed in 2013. The agreement settled decades of legal challenges over water rights and ushered in a new era of cooperation between Denver Water and West Slope stakeholders.

The agreement called for Denver Water to work with stakeholders to improve high-country rivers and also included payments to local governments to benefit water supply and quality, the environment and recreation. In Frisco’s case, the money from Denver Water, about $700,000 since 2013 with an additional $450,000 pledged, helped pay for the Big Dig project.

“Denver Water’s money absolutely helped realize this project. We didn’t have to borrow as much money as we would have otherwise,” said Bonnie Moinet, Frisco’s finance director.

The town sold $5.45 million in bonds to help pay for the Big Dig and future improvements at the marina, which will include bigger spaces for serving customers who are renting boats and for staff offices and new restrooms for all who use the marina.

Workers remove the old fuel docks in pieces at the Frisco Bay Marina to make way for the town's Big Dig excavation project to lower the lakebed at Dillon Reservoir by up to 13 feet near the marina. Photo credit: Sonya Doctorian