Inside the Stagecoach Dam: Harnessing the Power — Steamboat Today

Photo credit Upper Yampa River Water Conservancy District.
Photo credit Upper Yampa River Water Conservancy District.

Here’s a report from a tour of Stagecoach Dam from Matt Stensland writing for Steamboat Today. Click through for the cool photo of the drain system from inside the dam. Here’s an excerpt:

It is a careful balancing act at the Stagecoach Dam, where electricity is generated for homes, fish habitat is managed and water is stored for a time when cities, ranchers and industry need it.

Behind the steel door, mineralized sludge covers the concrete walls and incandescent bulbs dimly light the narrow corridor.

These are the guts of the Stagecoach Dam southeast of Steamboat Springs, and it can be a little unnerving knowing that at the other side of the wall, 9,360 pounds of pressure push against each square foot of concrete.

Water drips from the ceiling and falls from drain pipes that collect water from the seeping concrete.

“All dams get water into them,” said Kevin McBride, adding that not having a system to drain the water would create pressure and put the dam’s integrity at risk…

“It’s pretty much paradise here,” said Blankenship, who most recently worked at a coal mine and previously worked in the power house of the USS Enterprise for the U.S. Navy.

Rogers has an electrical engineering degree from the Colorado School of Mines.

In addition to monitoring the integrity of the dam, they oversee the hydroelectric power plant, which was named the John Fetcher Power Plant in 1997. He pushed to make electricity generation part of the dam design.

“I think John was a natural conservationist and to have this capability in a project that size and not do it was a bad thing,” said McBride, referring to Fetcher, who died in 2009 at age 97 after being recognized as one of the state’s water leaders.

Above the loud turbine in the power house sits a sign warning people not to stand underneath. That is because above, there is a large, weighted steel lever that will come crashing down if the power generated at the plant needs to immediately come off the grid.

On Tuesday afternoon, the electrical turbine was generating upwards of 500 kilowatts. The system can generate as much as 800 kilowatts, but generation is limited by the amount of water that is flowing into the reservoir.

“The generation, it fluctuates wildly,” said Andi Rossi, the water district’s engineer. “If the flows get too low, we shut down for power generation. In a big wet year, we’ll make a lot of power.”

The water district had been selling the power to Xcel Energy, but Yampa Valley Electric Association began buying the power last year for six cents per kilowatt hour. In 2016, YVEA paid more than $230,000 for the 3.85 million kilowatt hours generated at the dam. That is enough energy to power about 355 homes.

Power generation varies and is dependent on runoff. During the drought year of 2002, only 1.85 million kilowatt hours was produced. When there was abundant snowfall in 2011, 4.7 million kilowatt hours was produced. Since 1999, an average of 3.8 million kilowatt hours has been made each year…

A tower of concrete in the reservoir beside the dam has three gates that allow different temperatures of water to be mixed and sent through a pipe under the dam toward the generator.

From there, the water is either sent through the generator or through a pipe called a jet flow, which shoots water out of the power plant and helps oxygenate the water for fish habitat in the section of river in front of the dam known as the tailwaters.

The area is an angler’s delight and can only be accessed by snowmobile from the Catamount area or by hiking along a county road from Stagecoach State Park.

“It’s phenomenal,” Colorado Park and Wildlife fish biologist Billy Atkinson said.

With improvements by Parks and Wildlife to the river habitat, the area has thrived for fishing, partly because of the dam and reservoir. Relatively warm water released from the dam keeps the section of river from freezing over, and the water from the reservoir is rich in nutrients for the fish.

“The system is very productive,” Atkinson said.

In 2016, 25 percent more people visited the section of river, and 4,000 trout were measured per mile.

Not all tailwaters below dams in Colorado are experiencing similar success.

“It depends on the dam and the operations of the dam,” Atkinson said.

Loveland: Solar to replace hydro from damaged Idylwilde dam

Idylwilde Dam via Loveland Water and Power
Idylwilde Dam via Loveland Water and Power

From TheDenverChannel.com (Kurt Sevits):

The city of Loveland has finished work on a large-scale solar power installation that aims to replace the damaged Idylwilde hydroelectric dam.

The dam, built in 1917, was badly damaged in the Sept. 2013 floods that devastated the Front Range corridor.

Loveland received about $9 million in disaster recovery funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to construct the new Foothills Solar and Substation project, which the city says is capable of producing more power than the dam.

The Idylwilde Dam’s hydroelectric facility was capable of producing 900 kilowatts of electricity before it was removed. The new solar project, on the other hand, has a capacity of 3.5 megawatts, more than tripling the output of the dam.

City officials said the solar project is expected to produce about 6,813 megawatt hours of electricity each year — enough to power about 574 homes.

To produce as much power as possible, the array uses solar tracking technology, which allows the panels to move throughout the day so they’re always facing the sun.

Boulder-based Namaste Solar designed and built the solar array.

The city said the project is the first energy-producing facility to receive approval through FEMA’s “Alternate Project” program, which permits the use of federal money for new construction when restoring a damaged building isn’t considered to be in the public interest.

$5.1 million of the FEMA funds were used to build the solar array. The remainder will be used to construct an electric substation on the site. It’s expected to be completed in the spring.

EPA delays in-situ uranium rule

uraniuminsitu

From the Associated Press (Mead Gruver) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

Federal officials withdrew a proposed requirement for companies to clean up groundwater at uranium mines across the U.S. and will reconsider a rule that congressional Republicans criticized as too harsh on industry.

The plan that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency put on hold Wednesday involves in-situ mining, in which water containing chemicals is used to dissolve uranium out of underground sandstone deposits. Water laden with uranium, a toxic element used for nuclear power and weapons, is then pumped to the surface. No digging or tunneling takes place.

The metal occurs in the rock naturally but the process contaminates groundwater with uranium in concentrations much higher than natural levels. Mining companies take several measures to prevent tainted water from seeping out of the immediate mining area.

Even so, underground leaks sometimes occur, though most of the mines are not near population centers. No in-situ uranium mine has contaminated a source of drinking water, the industry and its supporters assert.

Along with setting new cleanup standards, the rule would have required companies to monitor their former mines potentially for decades. The requirement was set for implementation but now will be opened up for a six-month public comment period, with several changes.

Those include allowing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or states to determine certain cleanup standards on a site-specific basis. The EPA decided to resubmit the rule and seek additional public input after reviewing earlier comments, agency spokeswoman Monica Lee said.

Wyoming’s Republican U.S. senators, John Barrasso and Mike Enzi, praised the EPA’s decision to reconsider, saying the rule was unnecessarily burdensome for the uranium industry.

Wyoming has five active in-situ uranium mines and is the top uranium-producing state. Other mines are active in Nebraska and Texas.

“In-situ uranium recovery has been used in the United States for decades, providing valuable jobs to Wyoming and clean energy to the nation,” Enzi said in a news release. “I rarely say this about the EPA, but the agency made the right decision.”

Environmentalists and others say uranium-mining companies have yet to show they can fully clean up groundwater at a former in-situ mine. Clean groundwater should not be taken for granted, they say, especially in the arid and increasingly populated U.S. West.

“We are, of course, disappointed that this final rule didn’t make it to a final stage,” said Shannon Anderson with the Powder River Basin Resource Council. “It was designed to address a very real and pressing problem regarding water protection at uranium mines.”

The EPA rule is scheduled for further consideration in President-elect Donald Trump’s administration.

In-situ uranium mining surged on record prices that preceded the 2011 Japanese tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster. Prices lately have sunk to decade lows, prompting layoffs.

@CBCNews: U.S., Canada ban offshore drilling in Arctic waters

Yes, there is still lots of ice in Antarctica, but it's melting faster than ever. bberwyn photo.

From the Associated Press via CBC News:

President Barack Obama on Tuesday designated the bulk of U.S.-owned waters in the Arctic Ocean and certain areas in the Atlantic Ocean as indefinitely off limits to future oil and gas leasing.

The White House announced the actions in conjunction with the government of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, which also placed a moratorium on new oil and gas leasing in its Arctic waters, subject to periodic review.

“Today, President Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau are proud to launch actions ensuring a strong, sustainable and viable Arctic economy and ecosystem, with low-impact shipping, science based management of marine resources, and free from the future risks of offshore oil and gas activity,” the statement read.

The move helps put some finishing touches on Obama’s environmental legacy while also testing president-elect Donald Trump’s promise to unleash the nation’s untapped energy reserves.

Obama is making use of an arcane provision in a 1953 law to ban offshore leases in the waters permanently. The statute says that “the president of the United States may, from time to time, withdraw from disposition any of the unleased lands of the outer Continental Shelf.”

Environmental groups hope the ban, despite relying on executive powers, will be difficult for future presidents to reverse. The White House said it’s confident the president’s directive will withstand legal challenge and said the language of the statute provides no authority for subsequent presidents to “unwithdraw” waters from future lease sales.

The Atlantic waters placed off limits to new oil and gas leasing, which hold the volume equivalent of 31 Grand Canyons, stretches off the coast of New England south to Virginia.

The administration cited environmental concerns to justify the moratorium. The president also issued a statement noting the minimal level of fuel production occurring in the Arctic. Obama said just 0.1 per cent of offshore crude production came from the Arctic in 2015, and at current oil prices, significant production would not occur in future decades.

“That’s why looking forward, we must continue to focus on economic empowerment for Arctic communities beyond this one sector,” Obama said…

In issuing a permanent ban, Obama appears to be trying to tie the hands of his successor. Trump has vowed a domestic energy revolution and is filling his cabinet with nominees deeply opposed to Obama’s environmental and climate change actions.

Environmental groups were calling for a permanent ban even before the presidential election, but Trump’s victory has provided greater urgency for them and for businesses that rely on tourism and fishing. Trump has said he intends to use all available fuel reserves for energy self-sufficiency — and that it’s time to open up offshore drilling.

“This decision will help protect existing lucrative coastal tourism and fishing businesses from offshore drilling, which promises smaller, short-lived returns and threatens coastal livelihoods,” said Jacqueline Savitz, a senior vice-president at the advocacy group, Oceana.

Poll: Most Latino Voters Favor Strong Environmental Protections — Public News Service

derrick

From Public News Service:

More than 70 percent of Latino voters are deeply concerned about the environment and how it affects their families. That’s according to a new Latino Decisions poll, which found over 90 percent of Latino Coloradans want the President-elect and new Congress to fight climate change.

Dominick Moreno, incoming Colorado Senator for Adams County, said he isn’t surprised by the poll results.

“The Latino community, I think, in Colorado really cares about the environment, cares about climate change and doing something about that, and is generally, I think, more environmentally sensitive to these issues,” he said.

He added that the survey confirms Latinos are an increasingly important voting bloc and are willing to take their convictions into the voting booth. In Colorado, 96 percent of Latinos surveyed said they support candidates who work to protect public health by limiting air pollution.

Nationally, Latino Republicans were less enthusiastic than Democrats about the need for action on climate change, but more than 60 percent agreed it’s an important issue. Over 90 percent want more clean-energy development.

Senior analyst of Latino Decisions, Edward Vargas, said these voters care about the environment because Latino communities are disproportionately affected.

“We tend to reside and live near environmental dump sites, factories; Latinos are also more likely to be working in the fields,” he explained. “So, I think this is just a reflection of where we live and where we work is impacted by the environment.”

Moreno said he’s confident the Latino community will keep a watchful eye on the Trump administration and Congress in case they try to reverse progress on climate change or let energy producers off the hook.

“You’re going to see them really, I think, rise up and say that we’re not going to accept the status quo, that we’re not going to accept halting the work that we’ve already done to make sure that, no matter where you live, that you have access to clean air and clean water, and outdoor recreation,” Moreno added.

@Colorado_TU: Lessons of the battle over the Roan Plateau

Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona
Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona

Here’s guest column from David Nickum writing in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

For more than a decade, the battle over Colorado’s Roan Plateau — a beautiful green oasis surrounded by oil and gas development — raged in meetings and in courtrooms. At issue: Would the “drill, baby, drill” approach to public lands carry the day and the path of unrestrained energy development run over one of Colorado’s most valuable wildlife areas? Or would “lock it up” advocates preclude all development of the Roan’s major natural gas reserves?

Luckily, this story has a happy ending — and a lesson for Colorado and other states in the West struggling with how to balance the need for energy development with conservation of public lands and irreplaceable natural resources.

The Bureau of Land Management recently issued its final plan for the Roan Plateau, closing the most valuable habitat on top of the plateau to oil and gas leases. The plan, which will guide management of the area for the next 20 years, also acknowledges the importance of wildlife habitat corridors connecting to winter range at the base of the plateau.

At the same time, the BLM management plan allows responsible development to proceed in less-sensitive areas of the plateau that harbor promising natural gas reserves and can help meet our domestic energy needs.

What happened? After years of acrimony and lawsuits, stakeholders on all side of the issue sat down and hammered out a balanced solution. Everyone won. It’s too bad it took lawsuits and years of impasse to get all sides to do what they could have done early on: Listen to each other. We all could have saved a lot of time, money and tears.

The Roan example is a lesson to remember, as the incoming administration looks at how to tackle the issue of energy development on public lands. There’s a better way, and it’s working in Colorado.

The BLM also this month, incorporating stakeholder input, closed oil and gas leasing in several critical habitat areas in the Thompson Divide — another Colorado last best place — while permitting leasing to go ahead in adjacent areas.

That plan also represents an acknowledgment that some places are too special to drill, while others can be an important part of meeting our energy needs.

And in the South Park area — a vast recreational playground for the Front Range and an important source of drinking water for Denver and the Front Range — the BLM is moving ahead with a Master Leasing Plan (MLP) for the area that would identify, from the outset, both those places and natural resources that need to be protected and the best places for energy leasing to proceed.

We have said that we want federal agencies in charge of public lands to involve local and state stakeholders more closely in land management planning — that perceived disconnect has been the source of criticism and conflict in the West regarding federal oversight of public lands.

The MLP process is a new tool that promises to address some of that top-down, fragmented approach to public land management. To their credit, the BLM is listening and incorporating suggestions from local ranchers, conservation groups and elected officials into their leasing plan for South Park.

This landscape level, “smart from the start” approach is one way for stakeholders to find consensus on commonsense, balanced solutions that allow careful, responsible energy development to occur while protecting our most valuable natural resources.

The lesson I take from the Roan? We can find solutions through respectful dialogue—and we shouldn’t wait for litigation to do so. [ed. emphasis mine] Coloradoans can meet our needs for energy development and for preserving healthy rivers and lands by talking earlier to each other and looking for common ground.

David Nickum is executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited.

stopcollaborateandlistenbusinessblog

#coleg: @CWCB_DNR hopes to score $25 million for watershed plans @COWaterPlan

Yampa River
Yampa River

From The Denver Post (Bruce Finley):

A Colorado Water Conservation Board proposal, sent to state lawmakers last week, recommends the stream-saving action to meet state environmental and economic goals. It remains unclear who would enforce the community watershed plans.

But there’s little doubt streams statewide are strained by thirsts of a growing population expected to double by 2060, according to state officials. And a Denver Post look at the latest water quality data found that 12,975 miles of streams across Colorado (14 percent of all stream miles) are classified as “impaired” with pollutants exceeding limits set by state regulators.

Creating local watershed plans to save streams is essential, said James Eklund, the CWCB director and architect of the year-old Colorado Water Plan. Eklund pointed to low-snow winters and drought in California’s Sierra Nevada, where 2015 snowpack at 5 percent of average forced a declaration of a state of emergency requiring 25 cuts in urban water use.

“When our Colorado mountain snowpack drops below 60 percent of average, we get nervous. If it happens in the Sierras, it can happen in the Rockies,” he said. “We need to protect certain streams before a crisis. We have got to get on this quickly.”

No single agency oversees waterway health. State natural resources officials monitor flow levels in streams and rivers. They run a program aimed at ensuring sufficient “in-stream flow” so that, even during drought, streams don’t die.

Meanwhile, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment sets standards on maximum levels of pollutants that people and companies are allowed to discharge into waterways. In 2015, only 51.6 percent total stream and river miles in Colorado met quality standards, and 30.1 percent of lake surface acres met standards, according to a CDPHE planning document.

“If stream flows are low, there is less dilution in the stream to handle the addition of pollutants through permitted discharges,” CDPHE water quality director Pat Pfaltzgraff said in responses sent by agency spokesman Mark Salley.

Yet CDPHE officials do not make recommendations to natural resources officials about water flows necessary to improve stream health.

The health department has made separate “watershed plans.” CDPHE officials “are considering broadening the division’s watershed plans to include ecosystem health that might be more consistent with stream management plans.”

Pfaltzgraff declined to discuss stream health…

CWCB chairman Russ George supported the push to create local watershed plans, to include detailed maps covering every stream.

“Every stream and tributary needs to be inventoried. … It should have been done a long time ago,” George said in an interview last week.

“We have kind of hit the population and demand place where we have to do it. We didn’t have to do it for the first part of history because the population was small and there wasn’t the impact of all the issues we are getting into now,” he said.

The CWCB voted unanimously last month to ask lawmakers to approve $5 million a year for up to five years to launch local stream planning.

Basin roundtable boundaries
Basin roundtable boundaries

The plans are to be developed within the eight river basin “roundtable” forums that Colorado has relied on for addressing water challenges. These groups draw in residents with interests in stream health who helped hash out the Colorado Water Plan, which was finalized last year and calls for statewide cuts in per person water use by about 1 percent a year.

Conditions along Colorado streams vary, said Bart Miller, healthy rivers program director for Boulder-based Western Resource Advocates. “There are plenty of streams that have problems.”

While state natural resources officials run the program aimed at keeping at least some water in heavily tapped streams, survival in a competitive environment is complex. Leaving water in streams for environmental purposes often depends on timing, when the mountain snowpack that serves as a time-release water tower for the West melts, the amount of snowpack, and needs of cities, pastures and farms.

Collaborative local forums to find flexibility to revive streams “is a great approach.” However, state officials eventually may have to play a central role converting plans into action, Miller said.

“The state should help both in funding the planning but also in implementing the plans,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do. This matters because this is about ‘the Colorado brand.’ Everyone depends on healthy rivers.”

The roundtable forums in communities draw in diverse stakeholders from cattlemen to anglers.

Irrigators and other water users west of Aspen already have created a “stream management plan,” for the Crystal River, seen as a model local effort. Their planning included an assessment of watershed health that found significant degradation above the confluence with the Roaring Fork River. They set a goal of reducing the estimated 433 cubic feet per second of water diverted from the river by adding 10 to 25 cfs during dry times. They’re developing “nondiversion agreements” that would pay irrigators to reduce water use when possible without hurting agriculture, combined with improving ditches and installation of sprinkler systems designed to apply water to crops more efficiently.

Enforcement of plans hasn’t been decided. “We’d like to see more enforcement” of measures to improve stream health, Rocky Mountain Sierra Club director Jim Alexee said. “We definitely think there’s room to do more. We also want to be respectful of the governor’s watershed process.”

Colorado has no history of relying on a central agency to enforce water and land use, CWCB chairman George pointed out.

“When you have a system designed to have everybody at the table, what you’re doing is recognizing there is a finite resource that is shared by everybody. And impacts are shared by everybody statewide. In order to keep from having some force dominate in ways that would not account for all statewide impacts, you need to diffuse the conversation into all areas. That is what roundtables do,” he said.

“When you do that, you’re going to get a better statewide result over time. … It is a process that is designed to get as many interests into the decision-making as you can. … It gets harder, of course, as the supply-demand makes pinches. For the rest of our lives, it is going to be that way.”