The view from above the dam at the Ridgway Hydropower Plant.

The view from above the dam at the Ridgway Hydropower Plant.

RIDGWAY—(June, 17, 2014) In years past, longtime Ridgway Dam Superintendent Ion Spor would clean out a 54-inch pipe, and wonder if it would ever be used for its intended purpose.

“I understood the original design,” said Spor, who has worked at the Dam since 1989, “and wondered if it would ever happen. Now, I am so glad that it has!”

What has happened is implementation of a final phase in the Dallas Creek Project, construction of an eight-megawatt hydroelectric power plant at Ridgway Dam. The plant was dedicated June 6, and represents use of a previously untapped resource to produce 24,000 megawatt hours of electricity in an average water year.

“We have been working on this for most of the past 20 years, one way or another,” Tri-County Water Conservancy Director Mike Berry said. “I had not envisioned how many people, pieces, parts, and the sheer size of the coordination effort that goes into getting something like this built.”

Much of the time was spent in planning; permitting and building took roughly four to five years, Berry said.
Tri-County Water Conservancy board member Jim Hokit, who also spent almost 30 years with the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users Association, said that he is happy to see energy being produced by the water from Ridgway Reservoir.

“We were able to borrow at a low interest rate, and with power rates up, the project was feasible,” Hokit said.
Created in 1957 to serve the Uncompahgre drainage in Ouray, Montrose and Delta counties, Tri-County Water Conservancy District delivers water to more than 6,500 meters through 600 miles of pipeline today. The dam and reservoir, located between Ridgway and Montrose on Highway 550, are owned by the US Bureau of Reclamation.

TCW Assistant Manager Kathleen Margetts said that the project’s completion fulfills a longtime goal, and that the past five years have taught her more than she could have imagined.

“I always had hopes,” she said, noting that the project’s feasibility had been explored more than once in years past. “Finally, everything fell into place; it worked this time.”

The new eight-megawatt hydroelectric plant will produce enough energy to supply about 2,500 average homes, according to a Tri-County Water news release, which compares the emissions reduction benefit from the new plant to the removal of approximately 50 million pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (or about 4400 cars from the road) each year.

Power from the $18 million plant will be purchased by the City of Aspen and Tri-State Generation and Transmission. Construction on the hydro project began in November of 2012.

Berry called the Ridgway Hydropower plant “one more piece of a community puzzle.”

“This project will inevitable be here for a long time, providing sustainable power for generations,” he said.
The plant includes two turbines and generators — a 0.8-megawatt system and a 7.2- megawatt system. The smaller unit will produce power using winter flows of 30-60 cubic feet per second (cfs). The larger unit will handle flows of 500 cfs during summer. The project will not significantly change historic operations or flows in the Uncompahgre River.

“This will not change our releases,” Spor said. “It just makes electricity in a cost-effective way; we are managing our water in a greater way.”