Water pulled for power plant

City officials confident resources are sufficient

Officials with Tri-State Generation and Transmission decided Saturday to bolster the once swift-flowing Yampa River. They have asked the city to release a portion of their water in Elkhead Reservoir into the river to support Craig Station Power Plant operations.

"The low flow in the Yampa River late on Friday caused enough concern to warrant this action," Tri-State spokesman Jim VanSomeren said.

The owners of Craig Station Units 1 and 2 own approximately 8,750 acre feet of water in the reservoir and are releasing 40 cubic feet per second (cfs) into the river, which equals about 80 acre feet a day.

A cfs equals 600,000 gallons of water.

"The release has had a positive impact on the situation," VanSomeren said.

The Craig Station uses 22 cfs per year on average for plant operations.

"We are confident that, if needed, we have sufficient storage resources to meet our needs and will be able to withstand the drought," VanSomeran said.

The power plant's use of water is totally consumptive it is used and reused within the plant, but not returned to the river.

"We certainly try to make the most efficient use of our natural resources," he said.

Tri-State, part owner of Units 1 and 2 and sole owner of Unit 3, also has the right to about 11,000 acre feet stored in Stagecoach Reservoir and about 4,000 acre feet in Yamcolo Reservoir.

An acre foot is equal to 300,000 gallons of water.

The last time a release on Elkhead was authorized was just prior to Labor Day in 1994. The plant's water rights on the Yampa River are junior, which is why they purchased reserves in Elkhead and other reservoirs.

The city of Craig has the rights to 1,668 acre feet of water in Elkhead, but according to Public Works Director Bill Earley, it isn't in a hurry to use it. At this point, the flow in the Yampa River still meets the city's needs.

The city, at peak usage, pulls about 10 cfs of water from the Yampa.

"We're vested in Elkhead for future growth," Earley said. "I'm not going to say we won't use it this year, you never know what will happen, but I think our water rights on the river are sufficient."

The city owns senior water rights on the river, so Earley doesn't anticipate that a call on the river, if one comes, will affect the city.

"At this point we're relying on the state engineer to let us know if there is a problem with our water rights and if there is, we'll release from Elkhead," he said. "We've got plenty of water up there if we need it."

The city owns rights to 140 days worth of water at peak usage in Elkhead Reservoir. The city also owns about 3,000 acre feet of water in Elkhead's "dead pool" the water that is below the release point that must be obtained by using pumps.

"It would be really drastic if we had to do it," Earley said. "We'd have to pump it out and that can be very expensive, but it's there if we need it."

According to Earley, what the Craig station is releasing from the Elkhead will be visible. At the current release rate, the reservoir should fall about one foot a day.

"As the reservoir drops, it will drop quicker because the surface area decreases," Earley said.

The power plant's release means the city should look closer at its conservation plan, Craig City Council member Bill Johnston said.

Johnston has been an advocate of the city's need to have a conservation plan in place that clearly defined when conservation efforts would begin.

"I think we ought to have a water conservation plan in place," he said. "We should start with a soft approach and as the water depletes, we should become more restrictive so we conserve our water reserves in Elkhead."

Johnston believes that by the time a decision is made to release water from Elkhead, the residents should already be making conservation efforts.

City staff will propose a water conservation plan at the July 23 council meeting.

"I'll be looking at it real carefully to make sure it makes sense," Johnston said.

Most of Colorado is already conserving water, but there have been no voluntary or mandatory conservation efforts made in Craig.

"The entire state is in a tough situation and common sense dictates that corporate and personal use should reflect that," VanSomeren said.

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