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.

#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.”

La Plata County Open Space and Southwest Conversation Corps take the fight to Russian Olive trees

Russian Olive
Russian Olive

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

Two years ago, a partnership between La Plata County Open Space and Southwest Conversation Corps removed Russian Olive, along with two other invasive species – tamarisk and Siberian elm – from more than 300 acres of the Animas River valley.

However, lands targeted during that project focused only on property owners who had placed their land under a conservation easement. There remained the need to address other landowners in the valley, Mountain Studies Institute’s Amanda M. Kuenzi said.

As a result, MSI applied, and was awarded, a $195,000 grant from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and an additional $52,000 from Colorado Parks and Wildlife for a three-year project to remove invasive plants from Bakers Bridge to the New Mexico line.

This week, crews from Southwest Conservation Corps embarked on the first leg of the project: a three-week effort on about 15 properties in the Animas Valley, including James Ranch and the Zink farm.

This fall’s removal, Kuenzi said, also serves as a pilot project aimed to garner interest from adjacent landowners.

“We really hope to get property owners who haven’t been involved to get aggressive on this,” Kuenzi said.

Kuenzi said because of diligent past efforts from Animas Valley landowners, as well as the city of Durango, among other entities, the presence of Russian olive and other invasive species isn’t nearly as problematic as in neighboring communities.

“If you go to Farmington, the Russian olive is wall to wall,” she said. “But we’ve worked on the problem here for decades, and that’s why our area isn’t overwhelmed. Still, we need to nip this problem in the bud so future generations don’t have to deal with it.”

Indeed, Cathy Metz, parks and recreation manager with the city of Durango, said the city has strategically fought Russian olive and other non-native plants on its property for years.

“We still have an ongoing monitoring situation, but we really don’t have many remaining on city property,” she said. “But certainly, we really advocate for collaborative effort to remove these species just because they are so invasive.”

Megan Graham, spokeswoman for La Plata County, said Russian olive is not on the list of weeds the county targets, but that the issue may be a topic of conversation later this month.

Russian olives are considered a “List B noxious weed,” which requires local governments to manage and limit their spread under Colorado state law.

Regardless, work carried out this week by Southwest Conservation Corp’s eight-person crew aims to cut down the plant. They then drop riparian-safe herbicide on the root so the plant doesn’t grow back.

“The hard part is really trying to spot all of them,” crew leader Alyssa Engdahl said while scouring the Zink property Wednesday. “And, of course, the thorns.”

The project next year will be four months, with the aim of extending into the Florida River watershed, a tributary of the Animas. The effort as a whole, Kuenzi said, largely depends on the community’s response.

“We really need all landowners’ participation to make this program a success and to ensure the health of our watershed for years to come,” she said.

Mussel risk at McPhee could limit boat access — The Cortez Journal

Mcphee Reservoir
Mcphee Reservoir

From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

A plan is being considered by local, state and federal agencies to close the McPhee and House Creek boat ramps with locked gates during times when boat inspectors are absent. The new management strategy would go into effect in 2017.

Currently, there are no gates at the boat ramps, and trailered boats can launch after hours when boat inspection stations are unattended.

“It is important to fill the inspection gaps, because the problems and expense of mussel contamination are severe,” said Mike Preston, general manager of the Dolores Water Conservancy District, which manages irrigation at McPhee reservoir…

Their presence causes damage and vastly increases maintenance costs long-term. They negatively impact the lake’s sport fishery by filtering the water and competing for food.

McPhee is considered an at-risk lake for the mussels because of its proximity to Lake Powell and Lake Mead, both of which are heavily contaminated with the mussel…

Locals know about the problem, and understand the importance of draining and drying their boats, Preston said.

“The worry is a visitor arrives with an infected boat that slips through. It just takes one,” he said.

DWCD, the Bureau of Reclamation, San Juan National Forest, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife signed a memorandum last week to share long-term costs and management for the proposal to improve the McPhee boat inspection program. The program currently costs $85,000 per year to run.

McPhee’s two boat inspection stations typically analyze between 8,000 and 12,000 trailered boats per year since 2009, and the numbers have increased in the past two years.

This year at McPhee, the number of boats needing decontamination went up 40 percent, managers said.

The new plan would limit access for the public such as for boaters wanting to put on early in the morning, or late evening, before and after the boat inspection stations are open. Access during shoulder seasons would also be reduced because inspections stations are open less.

Zebra and Quagga Mussels
Zebra and Quagga Mussels

Larimer County, Colorado Parks and Wildlife coordinate Greenback cutthroat trout release

Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout
Cutthroat trout historic range via Western Trout

From the Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

Specialists with the Larimer County Department of Natural Resources and Colorado Parks and Wildlife carried 269 greenback cutthroat trout in backpacks — protected in small plastic bags filled with water — about 2.5 miles to a section of Sand Creek.

There, they placed the fish in the waters and let them swim free — an effort to reintroduce Colorado’s state fish into its native region, the Platte River Basin, and to study whether they will thrive in a unique stream versus non-native brook trout…

The greenbacks made their way onto the endangered species list until, several decades ago, researchers discovered what they thought were a population of this species. Efforts to revive and reintroduce the species led to the fish being downgraded to a threatened species by 1978.

But genetics, which have improved in the past 15 years, proved experts wrong. These fish were not genetically pure greenback cutthroat trout.

A colony of fish in Bear Creek near Colorado Springs, however, was discovered within the past five years and is believed to be the only one left in the state.

Genetic testing by researchers from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, University of Colorado and Colorado State University compared these fish to samples that were collected in the 1860s and preserved at the Smithsonian Institution and Harvard Museum and proved that they were in fact, pure greenback cutthroat trout, Kehmeier explained.

Fish biologists have since been conserving and growing the population of this fish to put them back into their native habitat.

Populations have been introduced into Zimmerman Lake on top of Cameron Pass and Rock Creek in South Park and now into Sand Creek on Larimer County’s Red Mountain Open Space. This fall, more will go into Sand Creek, a small 3-mile stretch that is sustained by spring inputs and rainfall, as well as into Herman Gulch in Clear Creek.

Larimer County had hoped to reintroduce the greenback cutthroat trout into Sand Creek and included that as a goal in its plan for the open space.

And recently, the timing was right because there were extra fish available at the Colorado Parks and Wildlife hatchery near Salida.

So, together, the county and state agencies put fish into the middle third of Sand Creek.

But first, they delivered an electrical shock to the one-mile middle section of the stream and removed all the nonnative brook trout to create a setting in which to study the fish. (The 875 trout they removed were donated to the Rocky Mountain Raptor Center for lunches and dinners.)

The first release, on July 21, involved putting yearlings that were about 5 inches long into one section of the water.

The second release, in September, will put fish into a section of the river in which brook trout still exist as well as the stretch that was recently stocked. These 1,000 fish will be 1-month old.

Then, biologists will study the population for years to come and see how the greenback cutthroat trout survive. And in about three years, time will reveal whether the fish not only survive but also are able to reproduce and thrive.

Removing Tamarisk on the San Miguel River — The Nature Conservancy

From the Nature Conservancy:

How an ambitious tamarisk removal project on the San Miguel River set the precedent for future restoration work.

TAMARISK: A THREAT TO THE RIVER
The free-flowing San Miguel River extends for 80 miles from high-alpine headwaters above Telluride, to a desert confluence with the Dolores River near the Utah border. The area is marked by Cottonwood forests with understory of willows and skunkbrush sumac and supports an array of wildlife such as great blue heron, American dipper, black swift, river otter, beaver, black bear, and mountain lion.

In 2005, a watershed-scale conservation plan developed by the Conservancy and partners identified the invasion of non-native species specifically tamarisk, Russian olive, and Chinese elm as the highest threat to the riparian vegetation along the San Miguel River.

Tamarisk replaces native vegetation, and accumulates high concentrations of salts in the soil, threatening plant and animal species and local economy dependent on the river and riparian systems. Removing tamarisk and other nonnative woody plants from riparian corridors improves water quantity and quality, and restores the health of native vegetation.

AN AMBITIOUS GOAL
In response to this, the Conservancy designed a restoration plan and set an ambitious goal of making the San Miguel the first tamarisk-free river system in the Western United States, something that had never been tried before. Working with community members, landowners, the Bureau of Land Management and local government officials, the Conservancy educated stakeholders on the benefits of the project for the river ecosystem and garnered support from almost everyone in the watershed.

Starting in 2007, the project took seven years to complete. While not reaching the goal of a fully tamarisk-free river system, the woody invasive species abundance is drastically reduced in all of the areas that were treated. Analysis done in 2014 has shown that the removal work was a success and minimal continued management is needed.

A MODEL FOR RIPARIAN RESTORATION
“This comprehensive project was a first of its kind in the western United States and has become a model for large scale riparian restoration,” said Terri Schulz, director of landscape science and management for The Nature Conservancy in Colorado.

Efforts have expanded to projects on the Dolores River and prompted the establishment and expansion of groups such as the Tamarisk Coalition. By thinking about this work in the context of the whole watershed, the Conservancy was able to reach out to a wide variety of partners to provide leadership and manpower to the project and to grow the capacity for this work moving beyond the San Miguel watershed.

As the Conservancy plans for future restoration efforts, the tamarisk removal project on the San Miguel River provides an outline for how to successfully work together with communities, landowners and the government to complete projects and reach largescale conservation goals.

#ColoradoRiver: CPW hopes public can understand its efforts at Elkhead Reservoir — Craig Daily Press #COriver

Elkhead Reservoir
Elkhead Reservoir

From The Craig Daily Press (Patrick Kelly):

The tournament is hosted by CPW, and it is offering over $6,000 in prizes, but the effort is part of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery program.

To prevent further federal involvement, the recovery program was formed in 1988 to provide endangered species act compliance and keep water development projects closer to the local level.

Three states — Colorado, Utah and Wyoming — along with a multitude of federal agencies and private organizations formed the recovery program to help improve fish populations of the endangered humpback chub, Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker and ponytail.

The program’s actions are dictated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, but it still provides an important buffer between state and federal government.

If the program fails and is dissolved, an individual who draws water from the Yampa River would have to justify their use and provide evidence that their use does not impact endangered fishes — a task the recovery program currently completes.

Sherman Hebein, CPW’s senior aquatic biologist for the northwest region, said his organization is hosting the tournament at Elkhead and offering serious prizes because it is important to engage the public in the effort to control non-natives.

Elkhead Reservoir is home to nonnative northern pike and smallmouth bass, making it a popular fishery for anglers from across Colorado.

But the same nonnatives that attract anglers to the reservoir eat the four fish the recovery program is trying to save.

“The objective of this tournament is to suppress these fish, smallmouth bass and northern pike, to reduce the impact of those fish on the Yampa River,” Hebein said.

Hebein said protecting these fish easily approaches philosophical debate but genetic diversity is an important thing to protect.

“A lot of people ask what’s so important about these four fish species… don’t they live somewhere else?” he said. “These fish don’t live anywhere else… These fish are the true natives of the Colorado River Basin… If we don’t recover them here, they won’t be anywhere else.”

Until humans have a better understanding of DNA and what makes us tick, it is crucial to preserve all iterations of life, Hebein said.

“Until we can figure that out, we really need to conserve the DNA of all these living organisms because we don’t know how to make it,” he said.

But some are still opposed to a tournament that would potentially reduce the fishery in Elkhead Reservoir.

Steve Smith, Craig local and longtime Elkhead angler, had a sign posted in protest of the tournament at the turn off to the launch ramp.

“This is one of the closest lakes that we can fish,” he said. “It’s been holding it’s own for crappie or pike or bluegill but now they want to eliminate or lower the number of smallmouth or pike.”

Despite their differences, Smith and CPW officials were able to interact with respect. Smith understands that CPW has objectives to complete and CPW officials understand Smith’s passion for his hometown fishery.

Hebein said CPW is not out to kill the fishery, like many locals believe.

“We’re here to turn this lake into a far better fishery but to do that we have to suppress the numbers of big predators,” he said.

Hebein and CPW spokesman Mike Porras both said that without their efforts, Endangered Species Act compliance would be out the window and federal intrusion into local affairs would be even greater.

“Every water user would be compelled to deal with a Section 7 consultation with the (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) on how their use of water would not impact the endangered fish,” he said. “That’s a lot of work and a lot of paperwork and that’s the reason behind why the recovery program has been such a valuable thing.”

Out of all the anglers interviewed by the Craig Daily Press on Saturday, only one was from Craig, and a gentleman from the Denver area joined him

The rest of the fishermen were from Grand Junction, Eagle or Rifle.

The tournament ends on June 19 with daily prizes for smallest, biggest and most fish caught. Catching a fish with a tag enters anglers into a raffle for big prizes, with the top prize being a new boat.

“The sooner that we can recover the endangered fish, the sooner we can have some more freedom,” said Hebein. “I’d like to encourage everyone to think about the recovery program and the value it has presented in everyone’s lives. How can we get together, recover the fish and move on from there?”

Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program
Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program