Our View: Stagecoach plan promising

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Editorial Board, April 2010 to Aug. 8, 2010

  • Suzanne Schlicht, publisher
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Blythe Terrell, city editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Towny Anderson, community representative
  • Tatiana Achcar, community representative

Contact the editorial board at (970) 871-4221 or editor@steamboatpilot.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

Raising the dam at Stagecoach Reservoir is part of a plan that will efficiently and economically increase the storage capacity in the Yampa Valley.

The Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District is preparing to raise the South Routt County reservoir by 4 feet in a project that will start this summer and continue into next. The project is expected to cost just less than $3 million and will be paid for through revenues the district has from water sales, a mill levy and the dam’s hydroelectric power plant.

What we’re looking at is a project that will increase Stagecoach Reservoir’s capacity by about 3,185 acre-feet. The reservoir currently holds 33,275 acre-feet. An acre-foot is the amount of water that would cover one acre to the depth of one foot.

District General Manager Kevin McBride said last week that the district is 95 percent certain it can move ahead with the project and is moving forward with bidding from contractors. Water from Stagecoach, which became operational in 1989, is used for industrial, agricultural and municipal purposes across the valley.

In 2009, the largest industrial purchaser of water from Stagecoach Reservoir was Tri-State Generation and Transmission, which bought 7,000 acre-feet. The largest single agricultural buyer was Alfred Fisher III, who bought 2,900 acre-feet. The largest municipal buyer was the city of Steamboat Springs, which bought 552 acre-feet in 2009.

McBride said Tuesday that the additional water that will be available after the expansion hasn’t been contracted for a specific purpose. It will go into the general bucket at the reservoir and can be contracted by buyers from there.

Among the public benefits, McBride said, is that the water will be in the reservoir just in case.

“In the simplest sense, that’s why reservoirs are built, and the reason that Stagecoach stays as full as it does from year to year is, right now, it’s an insurance policy for a lot of the users to make sure in a drought scenario we don’t run out,” he said.

The water also is protected when it’s in Stagecoach, McBride noted. There are a lot of demands — current and potential — on Western Slope water. The added reservoir capacity will allow the valley to hold on to a little bit more of it.

The impact of Stagecoach Reservoir on the valley and the Yampa River already has been realized. By increasing its size, rather than building a new reservoir, the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District is minimizing further environmental impacts. This strategy also exemplifies a plan that perhaps the state of Colorado could use on a larger scale.

The work also will result in increased water flow down the Yampa this summer. Stagecoach Reservoir’s water level will be lowered about 15 feet so crews can access infrastructure such as boat ramps and the dam’s spillway. That will occur after the middle of July and into late summer, McBride said last week.

The release will increase flow by 100 cubic feet per second from mid-July through mid-September, which is likely to please summer river recreationists. Floaters, fishers and kayakers could see the positive effects of the changes.

After the work is completed, more water will mean more public benefit, McBride said Tuesday.

“There’ll be more water at the beginning of any drought cycle, and as that water is delivered, almost regardless of who it’s delivered to, it provides nonconsumptive benefits on the way to where it’s going; it generates green power” through the hydroelectric plant, he said.

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