Reclamation and the Tri-County Water Conservancy District deal would lead to a 7 megawatt hydroelectric generation plant at the Ridgway Dam


From The Telluride Daily Planet (Benjamin Preston):

In September, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which owns the dam, submitted a draft environmental assessment examining a lease agreement with the Tri-County Water Conservancy District, the agency that would build the plant and sell electricity to the grid. Public comment on the environmental assessment recently ended, and a spokesperson from the Bureau said that public input generally favored the project.

Tri-County manages Ridgway Dam, providing 28,100 acre-feet of water to 7,500 domestic water taps and 11,200 acre-feet to more than 50,000 acres of agricultural land. (An acre-foot is the amount of water it takes to cover an acre of land with a foot of water, or about 326,000 gallons.) Tri-County District Manager Mike Berry said that aside from storing municipal and irrigation water, the dam was originally intended to include a hydroelectric plant. Although the Bureau of Reclamation owns the dam, it can allow a non-federal agency to develop hydropower with a lease of power agreement. “The dam has been there a long time, so it’s time to use the power that comes from the release of water,” Berry said. “It’s clean, green energy and everyone likes it.”

Berry added that the district is in the process of seeking buyers for the electricity, and hopes to get a purchase of power agreement signed within the next 90 days. Without contracts in place, the project will not proceed, but the City of Aspen and a few other entities have expressed interest in buying power from the district…

Conceptual plans for the new plant call for two turbines, one rated at 4.9 megawatts and the other at 2.1. Berry said half the electricity produced by the plant would be cranked out between June and September, with the rest trickling in during the other eight months of the year.

Berry said that based upon federal biological studies, the way the turbines and their attendant pipework are designed could improve water quality. The turbines, planned to be independent of the dam’s current spillway, will discharge water through submerged pipes, slowing it down. Berry said the design aims to ameliorate a nitrogen-rich condition affecting fish downstream of the dam. Justyn Hock, a Bureau of Reclamation spokesperson, said that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and environmental groups including Trout Unlimited and the High Country Citizens Alliance gave the project a thumbs-up during the comment period.

More Uncompahgre River watershed coverage here and here.

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