Info. on lower San Miguel River Dams - Mountain Buzz

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Old 05-31-2015   #1
Durango, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2010
Join Date: Mar 2012
Posts: 3
Info. on lower San Miguel River Dams

Hello all,

I was curious if anyone had any insight or experience dealing with the Low-head dams on the San Miguel River below Norwood bridge. From google maps and earth i've detected at least 3 including the Nucla Powerplant dam and the Ledges dam. I guess the Ledges dam is signed but the rest are not.

I've dealt with low head dams before and am definitely aware of their hazards. Seen Penny Lane on the Animas which took the lives of at least one boy scout on a tube i believe?

Anyways was wondering if anyone had any beta on them. I've also heard the Ledges dam has been reconstructed and is suitable to run now?

Thanks all,

boat safe

jlamb17 is offline   Reply With Quote
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Old 06-01-2015   #2
Join Date: Apr 2006
Posts: 174
Ledges runs fine in a kayak on far left bank.
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Old 06-09-2015   #3
montrose, Colorado
Paddling Since: 1976
Join Date: Feb 2012
Posts: 11

The lowest diversion-nucla power plant?- is one gnarly mo fo. There used to be a local pool - a barrel was thrown in and the bet was how long before it washed out. Big rip rap boulders and lots of prarrie dogs on left side - dont't remember a sign but the horrizon line means GET OUT! I remember the portage as not too raft friendly.
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Old 06-09-2015   #4
SLc, Utah
Paddling Since: 1996
Join Date: Apr 2015
Posts: 10
I remember two dams between the bridge and Nucla. The first one was a pretty easy run on left. The other one was dodgy/nervous on the right bank with someone ready to throw a rope. Maybe there was a third, not sure? Both Times I did it we took out above the Nucla power plant, I think because that dam is a no no and/or there are more dams in that town. One of those trips we drove a few miles down past the town then re-launched and continued floating the San Miguel to the Dolores, don't remember any dams down there.
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Old 06-09-2015   #5
Join Date: Mar 2006
Posts: 19
Dams and Fences!

It's been two years so things may have changed, but the Ledges dam was reworked with a boat chute and is much friendlier. The second dam is at the end of the small canyon below the take-out bridge of the Ledges section, maybe 4-5 miles. We were able to push/line the boats over the very far river right side of the dam and there was an ample sized pool above the dam at 500cfs. The third dam is a mile or so down from the second and is a true killer, especially at high water. We again were able to line the boats down the right side but a large intake station complicates the process. I would strongly advise bringing a couple of very long static lines as we found that one person can line the boat into place from above and a lower person can "drag" the boat through the backwater into a small eddy on the right below the dam. Portaging any craft other than a kayak or IK would really suck at both of these dams. The last dam at the powerplant seemed to run just fine unless something recently has changed. Finally, there are several swing gates along the way between the third dam and the powerplant. If you have the option of putting someone in a kayak or IK and sending them ahead to scout the gates it would be helpful and safer; some of them come up blindly around tight corners, and others are in various states of repair. We did have a scary moment at the last gate above the powerplant as a rancher strung an unmarked taught bare wire across the river a foot downstream below the gate and at head level. Thankfully no one got hurt, no damage was done and the local sheriff was surprisingly helpful in getting it removed but beware and perhaps bring wirecutters just in case.
Despite the obstacles, it is a great section and enables a long trip all of the way to Moab or beyond. There are some fun drops right below the take-out bridge and some nice camping beaches along the way until it opens up into ranchland. Have fun!
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Old 06-13-2015   #6
No, West Virginia
Paddling Since: 2006
Join Date: Jun 2007
Posts: 1
We just ran the San Miguel from Placerville to the Dolores (to the Colorado) in an 11.5 ft raft. Our levels were fluctuating between 1100 and 1500 and all the dams were runnable. The Ledges dam has a warning sign that scared us but it's totally fine at those levels. We ran left but you'd make it on the right too. Down from Pinon Bridge we encountered 3 more dams on the San Miguel and 5 cross river "swing gate" fences. These obstacles are all on the section between Pinon Bridge and the bridge at Naturita. We lined the boat on the right side of the first dam in that section, but feel like we could have run it on the right. The second dam was at the powerplant and fine on the left side, and the third was a little ways down from the powerplant and fun to run on the far right. We didn't have any trouble at the dams but if you don't stop and scout and hit them in the wrong spot you might get stuck there for awhile. The swing gates are all runnable (to the sides, they are low in the middle of the river!) except for the fourth - it's really low to the water and has wooden pallets strung out on it. Nasty. We lined the boat under on the left and the cable was resting on the raft. It was sweet to link Placerville to Moab, but if you're not looking to do that I'd probably just skip the Pinon Bridge to Naturita section. Hope that helps!
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Old 06-21-2015   #7
Join Date: Feb 2004
Posts: 75
yep killer dams

I ran Placerville to Moab two weeks ago. The two low head dams above Naturita are very ugly, killers, at 1200 cfs. And worse, they are completely unmarked with no clear portage spot, and the second does not have a good pool above it. We barely made eddy left, if grabbing willows counts as an eddy. At lower levels they may more manageable, I don't know. And the "pallets" fences are super ugly too, and located on pretty blind corners. The top half of this run is sweet enough, but I would recommend putting in at Naturita unless you are ready for class V risk on class II. Take some time to complain in Naturita, perhaps peer pressure can make the property owners take some responsibility before someone gets killed.
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