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Old Guy in a PFD
1,106 Posts
Discussion Starter #1
So a while ago Schutzie came across an article about how these Swedish Dam operators had figured out how to vastly improve the efficiency of one of their hydro dams.
As we all know, electricity generated from hydro can't be stored. It's a use it or loose it kind of proposition.
So anyway, what these Swedish fellows did was run their hydro plant at this dam pretty much at full generating capacity 24/7.
And when they were generating more electricity than they needed, they used the excess to pump water back up into the reservoir from below the dam.
For reasons beyond this old river rats understanding, the efficiency of the hydro operation was more than doubled, and in effect, they would always have ideal water levels in the reservoir to generate power. They could never run out of water to generate power.


Now, Schutzie realizes that McPhee isn't a hydro plant, and there isn't any efficiency to be improved upon, but then on the other hand, the Dolores goes into the Colorado which goes into Lake Powell, which is a hydro operation.

So he's been ruminating on what if we took the Dolores River water, you know, after it gets down around Powell, and pumped it back over the hill to McPhee so we could do the whole thing all over again.

We'd in effect have a year round Dolores river. And the farmers could still irrigate their alfalfa and their beans and what not.

Schutzie wonders if there would be any advantage for the farmers in using the irrigation water to generate power, you know, until the farmers actually needed the water for irrigation.

Now, Schutzie doesn't know if it's realistic to pump water 2,800 feet back up a hill and a few hundred miles across the mountains, just so we can "recycle" the water in the Dolores.
He doesn't know if there's a will to do that.
He doesn't know what it would cost.
He doesn't know what else would be impacted.
He assumes the farmers and ranchers would have something to say about it, because after all, they stole the water fair and square in the first place.

But all the same, what if McPhee was also a hydro dam, which would only be feasible of water was guaranteed to run the generators, and if it was feasible to expend the power to pump all that water back into McPhee, after it's gotten past, say, Gateway or the confluence or whatever.

What if?
We'd have the Dolores back, in all her glory, that's what.
And we wouldn't have a short 4-6 week season, like we did before McPhee, and an even shorter (nonexistent) season like we do now.

We'd pretty much have a year round Dolores.

The question is,

What if?

971 Posts
The system of profiting from selling electricity during the day when rates are higher, then pumping it back up to another reservoir when rates are lower has been occurring at Twin Lakes for several decades now. This operation is about 1/4 mile long and has a vertical rise/drop of maybe a few hundred feet.

I also live just downstream from the Otero Pump Station in the Upper Arkansas Valley, which receives water from several gravity powered conduits originating high in the Colorado Basin piping it through to the Arkansas (via gravity), then pumps it up a few hundred feet to a system that delivers the water (also via gravity from there) to the South Platte Basin. For those keeping score at home, that water is crossing two different divides that take water from the upper Roaring Fork, Eagle, and Frying Pan Basins to the front range metroplexes. Just a few years ago the water buffaloes increased capacity of the pump station by about double.

So both of Shutzie's concepts have been in practice for quite a while now, at least in my neck of the woods.

The Dolores is unique in that it flows north to the Colorado (as does the Gunny) but not many other major tribs enter the CO from the south. The CO runs primarily south from the confluence with the Dolores, leaving a relatively short distance to pump water from Powell Reservoir back to McPhee, and I would guess the direct line back would be shorter than the route of the river bed. I don't think the distance is as much an obstacle as the elevation is, one would only need to pump it to a certain elevation and then let gravity handle getting it back to McPhee.

I'm thinking McPhee is closer to Powell than any other major reservoir that could handle the flow necessary to achieve Shutzie's vision, but I haven't really researched it much (nor will I). But if true, it would make for a great location for such an endeavor.

The problem from what I've seen is the groups that control McPhee water are not really progressive thinkers looking for new solutions. They actually seem like the the polar opposite and act like they don't want ANYONE else to reap ANY benefit from that water no matter what use any other group may be seeking regardless of what the proposal is. Someone more knowledgable in that system can chime in on those politics, but that's my take right or wrong. Unfortunately, politics is way more of an obstacle than engineering or money.

Costs of both a pump station and a tunnel/canal system to move all that water upstream would likely have at least 9 zeroes after it. To spend that dough for the protection of a few ugly fish and to provide an excellent recreational resource that would benefit a lot of the people in a region with so very few people in it simply isn't on their priority list. Too bad.

So yes, Shutzie has a wonderful vision full of common sense (economics aside) that I would support but realistically would never even make the agenda of any meeting of the McPhee stakeholders, much less be considered seriously. Sad.

I miss the Dolores and fear I may never have a chance to run the Ponderosa/Slickrock gorges again. I'm lucky to have had a half dozen trips there.

Nice post Shutzie, keep up the fight.

God Amongst Men
1,994 Posts
Interesting thoughts. Maybe with the right compensation a pipeline across the Native lands, just because that looks like the best grade and shortest distance for a pipeline? Maybe take it out of the San Juan arm somewhere and across the flats of the Navajo Nation, and then up past Towaoc? The location of the pumping station is critical as there is some incredible and wild sandstone west, north, and east of Navajo Mountain. Building a pipeline across here would be not only be a blight on a still-wild area but building it would be a major pain in the ass.

If anyone is interested in discussions like these, and learning more about what's in DoStep's awesome post, consider buying a copy of "Water Wranglers" by George Sibley. It's a bit thick and it's hard to read in sequence, but there are a wealth of great historic photographs, maps, and diagrams. It's a great coffee table book, and it takes many, many readings to get through it all. It gets into the nitty gritty about almost all of the major projects in the Upper Colorado River Basin, including the Fryingpan, the Dolores, and many others, as well as some that never happened as well. Definitely a great buy!

30 Posts
Pretty much the only way I can think of to get some of our rivers back is to buy the water rights in the upper watersheds and sell them to downstream users. This has been done in Colorado in a few cases for fishing streams. BTW 90% of the water in Colorado is used for irrigation, mostly for cows. Cities actually use a pittance, tho they are constantly blamed for using too much. Since most large cities are downstream of the hay pastures, it would benefit us and the streams if they were the ones buying the water rights. And no, we don,t have to worry about starving. Most western states, excluding California, statistically have virtually no agricultural production compared to the U.S. total and contribute a microscopic pittance to state economies, despite their massive water usage. We do not actually have a water shortage in the west, but we do have a tremendous amount of downright stupid water usage.
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