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Waterbury Reservoir’s future could be at risk

The Waterbury Reservoir’s many swimming and boating possibilities drew 42,000 people this summer to the state park. Photo by Gordon Miller/Stowe Reporter

An argument about how to run the flood-control dam that creates the reservoir could lead to a decision to stop filling up the reservoir for summertime use.

And the reservoir gets a ton of summertime use. It is the centerpiece of Waterbury Center State Park, which is wrapping up a record-breaking season. This summer, more than 42,000 visitors have enjoyed swimming, boating, picnicking and hiking through the park, not to mention the naturalist programs that the park enables.

The reservoir’s future revolves around a new license for Green Mountain Power’s hydropower plant at the base of the flood-control dam. The utility has operated the hydro plant since 1953, but its license lapsed nearly two decades ago. Now, the company is seeking a new license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

In addition, a permit is required from the watershed management division within the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

Permit questions like these involve a balancing of hydropower benefits and environmental concerns.

The state agency will look at “everything from the effects on habitats, overall water quality, water temperatures, sediment levels as well as how the water flows and what happens to water downstream,” said Jeff Crocker, a river ecologist with the watershed division.

Those concerns also involve the effects on fish and other wildlife from raising and lowering the reservoir’s level season by season.

Now, the reservoir is drawn down to 562 feet above sea level in the winter, making room for the spring runoff that, except for the Waterbury dam, could cause flooding. The drawdown shrinks the surface area of the reservoir by 40 percent.

This is what the Waterbury Reservoir looked like for seven years after it was drained in 2000 for dam construction work. The 850-acre summer swimming and boating center all but vanished. Photo by Gordon Miller/Stowe Reporter

Once the runoff ends, the reservoir level is increased to 589 feet above sea level, creating the swimming-boating mecca at the state park.

The watershed division is concerned that the lowering and raising of water levels does not meet current water standards, said Bill Shepeluk, Waterbury’s municipal manager.

If the decision is to keep water levels low, then recreation at the reservoir would come to an end.

Shepeluk suspects state and federal officials have no idea of the furor that the reservoir debate will cause.

“This is a big issue to Waterbury residents, and people will be surprised at how passionate everyone feels about these things,” he predicted.

The community will have a chance to weigh in on the situation at a meeting tentatively scheduled for Oct. 7 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Thatcher Brook Primary School.

Competing interests

The Waterbury dam was finished in 1938 to prevent the kind of flooding that devastated Waterbury and other Vermont communities in 1927.

The dam holds back the water from the Little River, which flows south from Stowe toward the Winooski River. The Little River carries the runoff from the Stowe valley, including massive winter snowmelt from Mount Mansfield and the western side of the Worcester mountain range.

Once the reservoir was created, fish, loons and other flora and fauna made it their home.

Waterbury has already had a seven-year taste of what life would be like without the reservoir. In 2000, the reservoir was drained so construction workers could shore up the dam; the job took seven years and $24 million.

Shepeluk said Green Mountain Power tends to keep the summertime water level as close to 589 feet above sea level as possible, with a 1-foot leeway up or down. It uses that 2-foot range to generate electricity.

“These 2 feet of fluctuations don’t cause tremendous problems, but they can have a significant effect on water quality,” Shepeluk said.

The watershed division would prefer a permit that says the reservoir depth can’t flucuate up and down, Shepeluk said. Ultimately, it would like the water level to remain low, close to the normal wintertime level, he said.

If the water level is low, Green Mountain Power can still produce electricity from the Little River’s flow. But the hydropower would be less reliable. Now, adjusting the reservoir height ensures a steady flow of water through Green Mountain Power’s turbine, but a shrunken reservoir would make the hydropower dependent on the weather — similar to the utility’s other river-run facilities across the state.

Another option is to keep the reservoir even lower, near 550 feet above sea level — a 39-foot reduction in the normal summertime depth.

In this balancing of competing interests, Shepeluk said the hydropower plant, the environment and recreation could all be losers.

“We will be looking at solutions to allow all the stakeholders to get what they want,” he said.

While Crocker wouldn’t comment in detail, he said “there’s a possibility of changes to the recreation proportions of things but the opportunity would still exist. The parks may have to be redesigned.”…

Waterbury Reservoir Risk Management Project

Better amenities on the way for public at Waterbury Reservoir | Vermont  Business Magazine

The dam at Waterbury Reservoir in Waterbury is situated on the Little River, about 2.5 miles above its confluence with the Winooski River. From Waterbury, the dam can be reached by traveling two miles west on U.S. Route 2, then right on Little River Road for three miles.

In conjunction with East Barre Dam and Wrightsville Reservoir, Waterbury Reservoir provides flood protection to the downstream communities of Duxbury, Bolton, Richmond, Williston, Jericho, Essex, Colchester, Burlington, South Burlington, and Winooski.

Construction of the project began in April 1935 and was completed in October 1938. The project consists of an earthfill dam with stone slope protection 1,845 feet long and 187 feet high; an 882-foot-long semicircular concrete conduit 10.5 feet high and 14 feet wide; two 230-foot-long steel conduits, each with a diameter of four feet six inches; a 290-foot-long steel circular conduit with a diameter of four feet; three 26.5-foot-high tainter gates, with two gates each measuring 20 feet wide and the third 35 feet wide; and a spillway cut in rock with a 154-foot-long concrete ogee weir. The weir’s crest elevation is 15.5 feet lower than the top of the dam. Waterbury Reservoir was one of four flood damage reduction projects constructed in Vermont by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s. Construction was overseen by the Corps’ North Atlantic Division. Because of accounting procedures, the construction costs of Waterbury Reservoir were not calculated separately, but instead lumped together with the construction costs of East Barre Dam, Wrightsville Reservoir, and the Winooski River Local Protection Project. The construction costs of these four projects totaled $13.7 million. Following completion, Waterbury Reservoir and associated lands were turned over to the state of Vermont for operation and maintenance.

The present-day configuration of the dam is the result of two major modifications that allow a greater amount of water to pass through the spillway, increasing the dam’s structural integrity. The first modification, which began in September 1956, included raising the dam three feet and installing the 35-foot-wide tainter gate. This work was completed in November 1959 at a cost of $861,000. The second modification began in January 1985 and involved constructing the 290-foot-long steel conduit, rebuilding the toe of the dam, and grouting the dam’s foundation to control seepage. This work was completed in December 1985 at a cost of $4.8 million.

For most of the year, Waterbury Reservoir has a pool of 860 acres with a maximum depth of approximately 100 feet. During the winter, the pool is drained to a surface area of between 250-300 acres by the Green Mountain Power Corporation, owners of the hydroelectric power plant at the base of the dam (see below), in anticipation of spring rains and snowmelt. The flood storage area of the project, which is normally empty and utilized only to store floodwaters, totals 1,330 acres and extends approximately six miles upstream through Stowe. The project and all associated lands (including part of Mount Mansfield State Forest) cover 12,912 acres. Waterbury Reservoir can store up to nine billion gallons of water for flood control purposes. This is equivalent to 4.8 inches of water covering its drainage area of 109 square miles.

Swim, paddle or picnic at reservoir in Waterbury

The main recreational attraction at Waterbury Reservoir is the Little River State Park, a 1,100-acre block within the larger 37,000-acre Mount Mansfield State Forest. Little River State Park has a 60-acre campground on the western shore of the reservoir containing 101 campsites (20 of these sites have lean-tos), each with its own picnic table and fireplace. There are two designated swimming areas: Area A has about 300 feet of beach situated on one side of Stevenson’s Brook Cove, and Area B, located approximately 650 feet across the cove, has about 150 feet of beach. Little River State Park also has an excellent marked trail system, with dozens of hiking trails totaling about 30 miles. During the winter, about 17 miles of trail are marked for snowmobiling, with the remainder marked for cross-country skiing. The campground has a boat ramp (located in Area A); boat rentals; hot showers; drinking water; and sanitary facilities.

History buffs take note: There are three areas of archeological and historical significance within the Little River State Park. They are:

  • The Civilian Conservation Corps campsite used by the workers constructing the dam at Waterbury Reservoir. Between 1933 and 1939 over 2,000 men lived and worked here. At one time, this self contained community featured more than 80 buildings. Although a few foundations exist, none of the buildings remain. This area is located on Little River Road, about .25 mile southwest of the dam.
  • The foundations of a farm community dating back to the late 1800s. This site is situated about 2.5 miles northwest of Stevenson’s Brook Cove.
  • Several foundations of farmhouses dating back to the late 1700s. These are located near Cotton Brook, about eight miles north of dam. Note that the final six miles of travel must be made through woods; this site is not directly accessible by car.

Another recreational area enjoyed by visitors to Waterbury Reservoir is the Waterbury Reservoir Day Use Recreation Area, a 90-acre peninsula situated on Town Highway 17 (Old River Road), about .25 mile off Route 100. This site offers picnicking on 12 tables and 10 charcoal grills; swimming on 220 feet of beach; a concrete boat ramp; snowmobiling and cross-country skiing on unmarked trails; and sanitary facilities.

Three other areas offer limited recreational opportunities. The Waterbury Reservoir Boat Launch Area is located immediately behind the dam and provides boaters with an area in which to unload. The Blush Hill Recreation Area, located on Route 100 about six miles north of the dam, offers snowmobiling on marked trails. The Little River Canoe Access Area, located on Moscow Road (off Route 100) about five miles north of the dam, allows canoeists easy access to the reservoir. All of the above-mentioned recreational areas are operated and maintained by the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation, except for the Waterbury Reservoir Boat Launch Area, …

WATERBURY CENTER STATE PARK AND WATERBURY RESERVOIR

Lake Area:

860 acres

click for larger map of Waterbury Center State Park

Lake Max. Depth:

100 feet

Fish Species

Rainbow troutbrown troutrainbow smeltsmallmouth bassbullhead, and yellow perch.

Habitat

family fishing at Little River State Park

When the Little River was dammed, it created the Waterbury Reservoir. Little River flows into the reservoir at its north end and out of the reservoir via controlled flow at its southern end. The reservoir features clear water and a bottom consisting of a mix of sand, silt, gravel, boulders and ledge.

Quality fish habitat ranges from submerged trees and brush, to rocky points, bluff walls, gravel banks and some aquatic vegetation.

Park Fishing Tips

Waterbury Reservoir provides anglers with the opportunity to fish diverse fish-holding habitat including submerged woody cover, rocky points, bluff walls and some aquatic vegetation. Fallen trees cover a wide range of depths and will produce fish during all open water months.

A good portion of the reservoir’s shoreline consists of steep rock walls that can be very productive for smallmouth bass during the warmest months. Fish these walls with unweighted soft plastic lures and suspending jerk baits. If you are looking for a rush, get out in the early morning and enjoy a fantastic top water bite! While fishing with these tactics, anglers may also hook into some nice yellow perch, rainbow trout and brown trout.

Shoreline fishing opportunities abound at Waterbury Center State Park and via various trails around the reservoir. Wild brook trout and rainbow trout can also be found in Stevenson Brook, which flows through Little River State Park on the southern end of the reservoir.  Or you can take a canoe, kayak or motorboat to any fishing spots on your radar! 

Nearby Fishing License Dealers

You can purchase a fishing license at Parro’s Gun Shop in Waterbury, The Fly Rod Shop in Stowe, or online.

Nearby Boating Access Areas

Various boat launches are available on Waterbury Reservoir, including launching areas at Little River State ParkWaterbury Reservoir State Park, and adjacent to the Waterbury Reservoir dam.…