Preserving more than just water and power

John Fetcher recalls the effort behind the Stagecoach Dam

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— Shelves of binders filled with paperwork chronicle the work involved in planning and constructing several reservoirs and dams in the Yampa Valley.

Much of that paperwork, which sits in John Fetcher's office, can be traced to the development of the Stagecoach Reservoir.

"It took 61 permits," Fetcher said of finalizing the reservoir south of Steamboat Springs.

The Yamcolo Reservoir, which lies southwest of Yampa and came online nine years before the Stagecoach Reservoir, only required eight permits.

The Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District built the Stagecoach Reservoir in 1989 to provide municipalities and industries with a reliable source of water throughout the year, in addition to supplying farmers and ranchers with water for irrigation. The reservoir collects snowmelt and discharges the water into the Yampa River.

The reservoir embodies one of the major projects carried out by the District, which originated in 1966 to give legal authority in carrying out water conservation endeavors in the Yampa Valley.

Northwest Colorado's first hydroelectric power plant came with the Stagecoach Reservoir and Dam. Fetcher, secretary/treasurer for the district, was instrumental in integrating the 800-kilowatt hydroelectric plant with the construction of the dam.

He "wanted to see the wheels turn," said Fetcher, an electrical engineer.

The district in March 2001 became the first in the United States to receive certification as a Low Impact Hydropower Facility.

The certification, Fetcher said, places the power the facility produces on a par with other environmentally friendly energy sources, such as wind and solar power.

The John R. Fetcher Hydroelectric Plant annually produces 5 million kilowatt-hours of renewable energy, enough to power an estimated 500 homes.

The reservoir is not only friendly to the environment through clean power production, it also provides a refuge for wildlife.

The Wetland Habitat preserve, located at the reservoir's west end, houses sage grouse, sandhill cranes, hawks, eagles, songbirds and waterfowl.

The District reserved more than 1,200 acres of land at the reservoir as a permanently undisturbed habitat for elk, mule deer, black bears, raccoons, badgers, muskrats, squirrels and chipmunks.

The reservoir, which stretches three miles, remains a popular destination for visitors, who take advantage of all the amenities that water offers during the summer.

Boating, fishing, water skiing, swimming, camping and hiking draw people in the warmer months, while ice fishing, snowmobiling and cross country skiing lure visitors in the winter.

The Colorado Division of Parks oversees recreation services, which include boat docks, a 100-unit campground, two boat ramps and a beach for swimming.

The Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District covers most of Routt County and a smaller section of Moffat County.

A board of nine appointed directors, which includes three each from Hayden, Steamboat Springs and Yampa, manages the District.

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