One dam story with happy ending for everyone
Seen from river level upstream, the Relief Ditch dam is deceiving, a tiger with its claws hidden.
Located 3.5 miles downstream of the Pleasure Park on the Gunnison River, the Relief Ditch dam provides irrigation water to north Delta but also is a danger to anglers and recreational boaters.
Each spring, unknowing boaters tend to aim for the big opening in the middle of the push-up dam, so called because heavy equipment is used after each spring runoff to push up and rebuild the rock-and-boulder dam.
But the high flows throw boaters against a lineup of upright railroad rails, ragged claws of iron half-buried in the riverbed as part of the dam.
“In the spring, when the river is flowing in the 1,000-2,000 cfs range, that railroad iron is just below the surface,” said George Osborn of Hotchkiss. “Boaters tend to stay on river left, and I can’t tell you how many war stories I’ve heard from people about being hung up or losing rafts or helping pull off someone’s kid or a kayak. It just goes on and on.”
However, a plan to reconfigure the dam is set to begin at the end of the 2012 irrigating season.
Osborn, who has been instrumental in the push to redesign the dam, said the construction will make the passage safer for boaters, rehabilitate the river and riparian area and open a route for native river fishes.
Equally important, the new dam will provide safer access for irrigators and eliminate the yearly intrusion of heavy equipment into the river.
“No one I’ve talked to is opposed to this plan,” said Osborn. “It’s not common for TU to partner with an irrigation company but the Relief Ditch people have been great to work with.”
The plan, estimated to cost around $800,000, was formulated by the Gunnison Gorge Anglers chapter of Trout Unlimited and designed with input from water users, Colorado Trout Unlimited, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Army Corps of Engineers and others.
Funding and in-kind donations have come from TU, the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Species Conservation Trust Fund, Parks and Wildlife, the BLM, the Colorado Water Conservation District, Tom Whiting and others.