Sunday, April 13, 2008

Sunday stroll: River of Lost Souls

Most of the rivers that leave the San Juan Mountains are dammed to make reservoirs: the Dolores at McPhee, the Uncompaghre at Ridgway, the Gunnison at Blue Mesa, the Rio Grande all over the place, the San Juan at Navajo, even the little Los Pinos and Florida Rivers at Vallecito and Lemon.

Not so the Rio de las Animas Perdidas, Durango's river of lost souls. To the delight of the local boating community, the Animas runs free.

At least for now.

The Animas-La Plata project was authorized in the 1960's (and gets a brief mention in Cadillac Desert), but it is only being built now. Water is going to be pumped out of the Animas River, right here, downstream of the old uranium smelter site, the city water treatment plant, and the kayak park. And it's going to be pumped uphill into a reservoir that won't be visible from town.

I don't know what effect it will have on the river - it may be that humans won't notice it much. (There's a little more boating downstream, but a lot of rafts and kayaks take out at the beach across from the pumping station.) There was a lot of talk against the project before it began. But now... now we're watching it be built, and waiting.


Silver Fox said...

It sounds like an unusual project, especially in these days of dam removal.

Elli said...

In doing my field work in Switzerland, I quickly discovered that every time you turned around in the mountains, there was another dam. The Swiss really are big on self-supporting energy and so besides the nuclear power plants, they have a ton of hydro power. And they have spent a good amount of time and effort to make a sequence of dams in a drainage area to get the most out of the elevation drop in the mountains. Yes, there are the fish issues--but Switzerland is far ahead in the reducing carbon emissions game than we are.

Similar observation: I've noticed quite a few arguments against wind farms over the past few years. And yet, when you drive across northern Germany, there's a turbine or two in every farmer's field. When I asked, the farmer's get a) paid for the turbine's use of their field and b) get a nice tax deduction for allowing it on their land. My friend commented that it was supporting a number of farmer's through a few poor years...

Time to get off my high horse.

Chris M said...

Not only will decrease downstream flows, but it will actually use energy. Sounds like a great project...

Kim said...

Not only will decrease downstream flows, but it will actually use energy.


The project was proposed in the "dam every river" days of the 1960's, but it's being completed because of claims on the water by the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute tribes. (Tribes legally have senior water rights, though they generally have been given reservation land that's marginal for agriculture... and removed from the river drainages.)

The project doesn't make any sense geologically. But on the other hand, water is pumped uphill and across drainage divides to satisfy the needs of places like Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Denver. The Utes were here first. This is a kind of compensation for stealing the mountains from them.