Stagecoach Reservoir could get boost |

Stagecoach Reservoir could get boost

Stagecoach Reservoir storage expansion to send water downriver in late summer

Mike Lawrence

— Preparations to raise Stagecoach Reservoir by 4 feet will send extra water down the Yampa River through Steamboat Springs late this summer, a potential boost to the river and its users in an expected dry season after low winter snowfall.

The Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District has been permitting and planning to raise the South Routt County reservoir for about five years. The expansion will add about 3,185 acre-feet to the reservoir, which currently holds about 33,275 acre-feet and supplies water to local municipalities, agricultural users and Tri-State Generation and Transmission's Craig Station power plant. District General Manager Kevin McBride said the expansion now has the go-ahead from numerous federal, state and local entities, with the remaining negotiations — including those with owners of reservoir water — nearing their final stages.

"I would say we're 95 percent certain we're doing this," McBride said last week. "We're moving forward with the bidding and qualifications for contractors."

McBride said a bid advertisement for work around the reservoir is in the legal section of today's Steamboat Pilot & Today. Work should begin in late June, he said, with the mowing of sagebrush around the reservoir to prevent it from becoming pike-spawning habitat when the water rises to the expanded level beginning next year.

Other reservoir preparations this summer include the extension of boat ramps, installation of large rocks to prevent erosion, a renovation of Stagecoach State Park's swim beach, excavation on the north side of Stagecoach Dam and more.

"Most of the summer, there will be some kind of construction going on out here," district engineer Andy Rossi said last week at the reservoir.

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Most of the work will occur in late summer, McBride said, to coincide with appropriate water levels and recreational use of the reservoir and the state park.

McBride said the district is working with park officials to coordinate the construction. The swim beach won't be renovated until after Labor Day, and one boat ramp will be operational for that holiday, he said.

But water levels at the reservoir will be noticeably lower late this summer. McBride said the reservoir will be lowered about 15 feet to allow crews to access infrastructure such as boat ramps and the dam's spillway.

"After the middle of July, we'll start releasing (water) — I think it'll be most noticeable in August, when flows are typically down," McBride said. "We could be up to 7 feet down by Labor Day."

The release of water will send flows of 100 cubic feet per second or greater down the river from mid-July through mid-September, McBride said.

Structural work on the dam and its 60-foot-wide spillway, where water flows out of the reservoir and into the river, will begin after Labor Day, McBride said.

That work will require a separate contract with a contractor qualified for the specialized work. Tearing out the spillway's crest and replacing it with a new crest that is 4 feet higher will result in the reservoir's expanded capacity. Wind and other factors funnel water to the dam and its spillway on the reservoir's northeast side.

"The (water's) elevation gets controlled by the lowest point in the bucket," McBride said.

McBride and dam operator Dan Ellertson said this is the first time the reservoir has been raised since work on the dam broke ground in 1987. The dam became operational in 1989 and filled to its current capacity in 1991, Ellertson said.

McBride said the expansion would cost just less than $3 million, which the conservancy district has available through revenues from water sales, a mill levy and the dam's hydroelectric power plant.

"John saved all that (money) up," McBride said, referring to the late John Fetcher, who helped create the conservancy district in 1966 and "semi-retired" as its general manager in May 2008, at the age of 96.

McBride thought of his predecessor when citing the primary reason for the expansion.

"As John Fetcher would have said, 'for the future.'

"Having essentially a bigger bucket will make (the reservoir) a more reliable supply of water when we go into a drought situation," McBride continued. "To an extent, the bigger bucket you have, the better."

Ellertson said in some parts of the year, releases from Stagecoach Reservoir account for more of the water flowing through downtown Steamboat than people might realize.

"We're two-thirds or three-quarters of the river in late summer," Ellertson said.

Stagecoach Reservoir

Dimension Current After 4-foot raise Change

Surface area (acres) 771 819 +48

Storage capacity (acre-feet) 33,275 36,460 +3,185 Water level (feet above sea level) 7,200 7,204 +4

By the numbers

2009 purchasers of Stagecoach Reservoir water*

■ Industrial

Tri-State Generation and Transmission: 7,000 acre-feet

■ Agricultural

Purchasing entities: 9

Largest buyer: Alfred Fisher III, 2,900 acre-feet

Next largest: Duane Accord and Elizabeth Kirkpatrick, 300 acre-feet each

Total acre-feet for agriculture use: 4,000

■ Municipal

Purchasing entities: 8

Largest buyer: City of Steamboat Springs, 552 acre-feet

Next largest: Morrison Creek metro district, 500 acre-feet

Other buyers: Tree Haus metro district, Mount Werner water, towns of Hayden and Yampa, Dakota Ridge, Seneca Coal Co.

Total municipal acre-feet: 1,752

*Excludes some small new contracts

Source: Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District