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.

Work beginning for Toots Hole on Yampa River — Steamboat Today

The Yampa River Core Trail runs right through downtown Steamboat. Photo credit City of Steamboat Springs.
The Yampa River Core Trail runs right through downtown Steamboat. Photo credit City of Steamboat Springs.

From Steamboat Today (Teresa Ristow):

Work begins [November 21, 2016] on a new whitewater feature on the Yampa River adjacent to Little Toots Park.

The new Toots Hole will be similar to the A-Wave upstream, which was reconstructed in December 2015.

“There is going to be a drop feature on the right-hand side and then a passage on the left for fish,” said Kent Vertrees, board member for Friends of the Yampa, which is carrying out the project in collaboration with the city of Steamboat Springs Parks and Community Services Department. “It will create a good, fun wave for tubers and also create some fish habitat.”

The project will include river bank stabilization, riparian habitat restoration and other improvements.

In December 2015, the river’s A-Wave was reconstructed, as the drop-off had become troublesome for tubers who could hurt themselves or become stuck in the wave.

“At low water, it was keeping tubers in the hole, or tubers were flipping in and getting stuck,” Vertrees said. “Now, it flushes.”

Both the A-Wave and Toots Hole projects are being funded by Friends of the Yampa, thanks to grants the organization received from the Colorado Water Conservancy board’s Yampa White Green Basin Roundtable and the Yampa Valley Community Foundation.

Friends of the Yampa also organizes additional fundraisers, including its annual Big Snow Dance, which took place Saturday. The event raised more than $12,000 through an auction, money that will also support the Toots Hole project.

“That money goes directly into the river for this project,” Vertrees said. “The community of river people and Friends of the Yampa folks have really supported this project.”

The improvements to the river were identified in the 2008 Yampa River Structural Plan, and the two projects together are expected to cost about $130,000.

Vertrees said Toots Hole is the last component of what he calls the Yampa River Boating Park, a series of river features through downtown.

“We’ve created this interesting little urban river canyon, and we’re just adding to it,” he said. “We’re really excited about the conclusion of this project.”

Vertrees thanked Rick Mewborn, of Nordic Excavating, for his work on the projects, including donations of time and rock.

“Without him as a partner, this wouldn’t have been as successful,” he said.

Work on the project is expected to last about two weeks, and periodic closures of the Yampa River Core Trail might occur while work is taking place.

Business as usual on the #ColoradoRiver may be about to come to a screeching halt #COriver

From Colorado Public Radio (Grace Hood):

One of the worst recorded droughts in human history has stretched water supplies thin across the far-reaching river basin, which serves 40 million people.

Nowhere is this more obvious than Lake Mead, which straddles the border of Arizona and Nevada. The water level in the country’s largest manmade reservoir has been plummeting; it’s now only 37 percent full.

With an official water shortage imminent, Arizona, Nevada and California are taking matters into their own hands. The states are hammering out a voluntary agreement to cut their water use — an approach some consider revolutionary after so many decades of fighting and lawsuits.

The cooperation springs from self-preservation. If Lake Mead drops too low, the federal government could step in and reallocate the water.

At the same time, upper basin states like Colorado and Wyoming want to use more Colorado River water — something they’re legally entitled to.

In Colorado, Denver Water is in the final stages of seeking approval on a water storage project that would take more water out of the Colorado River. Wyoming is researching whether to store more water from the Green River, a Colorado tributary. Utah is discussing whether to build a pipeline to transport water from Lake Powell, the reservoir found up river from Lake Mead along the Utah – Arizona border.

Add in the likely impacts of climate change and how it’s affecting the Colorado River basin and you have an increasingly complex and challenging picture developing for the 21st century.

Pat Mulroy, a senior fellow at the William S. Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada Las Vegas and a leading Western water expert, says the time for a new toolbox and ideas to approach water management has arrived.

“There won’t be any winners and losers,” Mulroy says, unless Colorado River states move beyond the fighting and lawsuits of the last century as they try to adapt to the next century. “There will only be losers.”

In #Wyoming a fishery wins over #drought & #ColoradoRiver Compact storage #COriver

Smiths Fork River photo credit Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
Smiths Fork River photo credit Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

From The Casper Star-Tribune (Greg Fladager):

The Wyoming Water Development Commission voted against the Sublette Creek Reservoir, citing concerns by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department that too much water would be diverted, harming the Smiths Fork fishery.

“Their concern was that the water levels are being diminished in Smiths Fork, and that it would cause the temperatures to rise in late summer, and if those temperatures exceed a certain threshold, then you have the potential for a fish kill,” said commission director Harry LaBonde.

After the vote in a joint meeting of the commission and the Legislature’s Select Water Committee, Demont Grandy of the Cokeville Development Company said they were not planning to further pursue the project.

“As far as I’m concerned, it’s over,” Grandy said, noting area irrigators had been looking at it for nearly 35 years.

Siting problems have long plagued the undertaking. About $1 million in studies have been conducted and three potential locations rejected.

Another issue that raised concern was the project’s financial viability. In reports to the commission, the development company said its members could pay for operations and maintenance but not the dam itself.

Water storage rates would be between $17 and $178 per acre-foot, depending on the district’s financing costs and varying reservoir volumes. The small irrigation district said its members could afford to pay around $4 per acre-foot for water.

Commissioner Floyd Canfield has been a strong proponent of the project. The 4,100-acre-foot reservoir would help provide protection during times of drought should Wyoming ever need to supplement water flowing downstream under the Colorado River Compact, he said.

“What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to find a way to use a pre-compact water right. That’s the objective,” Canfield said. “It’s a very hard place to do that.”

State water officials suggested that enough data had been collected on the project’s drainage area that, should another potential site be located, the sponsors could start with a ‘Level II, Stage II’ study, rather than beginning from scratch.

The commission supported that recommendation in the motion to deny project funding.

“So, to me, I think that I would go for the motion, and hope that between the state engineer’s office and the agency, we could continue to work with the sponsor on a couple of spots,” said commissioner David Evans.

Even if another site is located, the timing of the rejection could affect its prospects. The state is facing significant revenue declines stemming from the energy downturn, and the commission is already set to approve projects that would commit about two-thirds of the $158 million in the Level III construction account.

“I think we have to start prioritizing things, and limiting how much money we use in studying sites,” Canfield said. “It’s the state of Wyoming’s money, citizens’ money, and maybe spend it a little more judiciously. That’s my feeling.”

Sublette Creek Reservoir Project photo via RJH Consultants.
Sublette Creek Reservoir Project photo via RJH Consultants.

White River: Wolf Creek Reservoir? #COWaterPlan

White River via Wikimedia
White River via Wikimedia

From The Craig Daily Press (Randy Baumgardner and Bob Rankin):

Our main takeaway from the meeting and subsequent tour was that the proposed Wolf Creek Reservoir project is a gem in the making for Colorado. In light of the governor’s water plan for the state, and his recent announcement that he wants to ensure that the we improve efficiencies and streamline the regulatory process for completing water projects in Colorado, it was highly encouraging to us to see a plan and a project like this in the works. Following our visit, we are confident that the Wolf Creek Reservoir can be an example and set the standard for how such projects can work, and we also both feel strongly that, for this reason, the Wolf Creek Reservoir should be made a priority within the state’s water plan.

More specifically, this project will bring a number of important regional benefits: it will provide the Town of Rangely with the quality and quantity of water necessary to serve their needs and address the growing water crisis that they are facing; it will assist in conservation efforts, providing possible opportunities for enhancing endangered fish species recovery; and, crucially, it will provide diversification to the local and regional economy through the tremendous recreational options it affords — offering growth and economic opportunity to an area that has been hit hard due to the drop in oil and gas prices, and other external and political factors that have ravaged the local energy industry. We will, of course, continue to work together at the state Capitol to address some of the political issues facing our energy sector; but in the meantime, seeing a project of this magnitude and importance begin to spring to life in this part of our state is extremely encouraging to us, as we are sure it is to the residents of Rangely and the whole area.

This project has great potential to offer incredible returns to both Rio Blanco and Moffat counties. The recreational opportunities alone will certainly enhance the quality of life for the region as well as diversify the local economy, as it will draw people not only from around the region and the rest of the state, but from neighboring states as well.

We both believe that it is time for the state and the various stakeholders involved to get behind making this project a reality. This is a perfect example of how the state can prioritize helping western Colorado. In particular, we would ask the governor to put his support behind it, and to use this as an opportunity to prove his commitment to speeding up the permitting process…

Sen. Randy Baumgardner and Rep. Bob Rankin composed this Op-Ed.

#Colorado, #Wyoming Move Forward with #ColoradoRiver Diversions — Public News Service #COriver

Fontenelle Reservoir and Dam, at Green River. Kemmerer, WY - USA March 12, 2016. Photo credit ruimc77 via Flickr.
Fontenelle Reservoir and Dam, at Green River. Kemmerer, WY – USA March 12, 2016. Photo credit ruimc77 via Flickr.

From The Public News Service:

Wyoming has moved one step closer to getting more water for ranching, agriculture and industrial development.

The U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources has advanced a bill that would allow the state to take an additional 125,000 acre-feet of water from the Green River at the Fontenelle Dam…

State officials say expanding the Fontenelle is necessary for farmers and ranchers who need a reliable water supply to keep crops and livestock healthy.

They feel the measure would also be an economic incentive for new businesses to grow and create jobs in southwestern Wyoming…

[Gary Wockner] notes Wyoming isn’t the only state trying to get more water from a shrinking source.

He points to a proposal by Denver Water to expand the Gross Dam that would remove an additional 5 billion gallons annually from the Colorado.

While upper-basin states may technically have rights to the water, Wockner says the challenges of a changing climate and 16 years of drought can’t be ignored.

The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism
The dam that forms Gross Reservoir, located in the mountains west of Boulder. Photo: Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism

#ColoradoRiver: Appeals court backs nuke plant water supply from Green River — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel #COriver

Green River Basin
Green River Basin

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

Opponents of a proposed nuclear power plant near Green River, Utah, are considering whether to appeal to the state’s high court after the state Court of Appeals upheld a district judge’s ruling approving the plant’s water supply.

A three-judge panel ruled last week in favor of Blue Castle Holdings, the project developer, and two water districts that are seeking changes to existing water rights so Blue Castle can withdraw 53,600 acre-feet a year from the Green River for cooling and steam production at the proposed plant.

The conservation group HEAL Utah challenged the state water engineer’s approval of the proposal, but that approval has now been upheld twice in court.

“In sum, HEAL Utah has not shown that the district court erred in concluding the change applications were filed in good faith and are not speculative or for monopoly of the water,” the appeals court ruled.

HEAL Utah’s challenge had been based partly on concerns about environmental impacts to the watershed, including to endangered fish.

Blue Castle CEO Aaron Tilton said in a news release, “We recognize our responsibility for strong environmental stewardship throughout the lifetime of the project, which includes working diligently to assure protection of the Green River environment and endangered species. Our project has been scrutinized at many levels, including the state engineer, the district court and now the appeals court. We have fully complied and satisfied all the requirements of the law. We can assure the public the high level of scrutiny that has been applied to the process is welcomed.”

Matt Pacenza, HEAL Utah’s executive director, said Monday that despite the setback, “we don’t think the project is moving forward in any legitimately or significant way.”

He said Blue Castle hasn’t attracted interest from utilities for the power it would supply, nor, as far as HEAL Utah can tell, from investors. He said the company hadn’t met with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission since 2011…

The appeals court said in its written ruling, “Despite the relatively early stage of the Project, the Applicants offered considerable evidence that the Project is feasible, including a detailed business plan, purchase contracts for land, lease agreements for the Districts’ water rights, and evidence that shows it has had discussions with eighteen utilities expressing an interest in the plant’s power.”

It added that while the project “is a risky venture” and hasn’t yet been licensed through the NRC, “the Applicants presented evidence that the Project is both physically and economically feasible.”

Blue Castle says it has begun the contractor selection process for some $8 billion worth of construction work with an expected start date of 2020.

It projects that construction would require some 2,500 workers over some six or seven years, and the plant would employ about 1,000 people permanently. The 2,200-megawatt plant would increase Utah electricity generation by about 30 percent, the company says.