It's hard to imagine now, with snow melt starting to fill Horsetooth Reservoir, but the man-made lake that quenches Fort Collins' thirst was once little more than a mud puddle.

The year was 2001, and Horsetooth Reservoir and its four dams had just turned 50. They were over the hill.

And their signs of age were hard to ignore, even cloaked in the arcane language of bureaucratic reports: Increased seepage. Heightening foundation pressures. A lack of protective measures to prevent internal erosion.

In the worst of all possible scenarios, water seeping through the dam cores could make them disintegrate, causing what bureaucrats call a “rapid failure.”

In other words, a dam could break, swiftly and without warning.

Read more at the Fort Collins Coloradoan: