Attention: Increased heavy metal load expected in Uncompahgre River on April 13

Eric Jacobson, vice president of engineering of Hydrowest, informed the Uncompahgre Watershed Partnership and other river-related agencies in the watershed about a planned gate opening at the Ouray hydropower dam on Wednesday, April 13 at 7 p.m. Jacobson explained that the annual dam opening to reduce sediment buildup (also called pond sluicing) is happening early this spring due to warm days that have led to an earlier than usual increase in flows in the Uncompahgre River.

Though the Ouray hydroelectric power plant does not contribute heavy metals to the pond and water, heavy metals build up in its pond due to acid mine drainage including unprotected tailings piles runoff and other outside sources. Increased heavy metals are expected to flow into the Uncompahgre River through Ouray County and downstream after the dam gate opening, so the community may notice discoloration in the water over the hours and days following the event.

The UWP is staying in communication and developing a water sampling program with Hydrowest and other stakeholders to better understand possible impacts of increased heavy metal loads on the river, as a result of dam water releases. We will keep our subscribers updated as plans progress.