Let’s face it, 2020 and 2021 have been really strange years. With the COVID-19 crisis dumped in our laps suddenly last March, it seems like life came to a standstill. We were stuck inside, limited, and prevented from going just about anywhere and facing an uncertain road ahead.
As summer arrived, at least we were all able to get out and enjoy a bit of fresh air. The question then became where to go and what to do in the days of “social distancing”. It has also been a very hot and humid summer with very little rain. One place that I had never visited before was the Waterbury State Park reservoir and dam.
It’s a bit off the beaten path, a quarter-mile off VT Route 100, but perhaps that is what’s so great about it. The day I visited, there were only a few people there and plenty of solitude, summer breezes, and the sound of the water cascading over the dam.
Waterbury Reservoir is also a great place to fish and sometimes there can be quite a few people taking advantage of that along with swimming and wading in the water. There is also a picnic area and places to have a small bonfire near the parking area.
The Waterbury Reservoir is the ninth-largest body of water in the state of Vermont. It was created in the 1930s by the Vermont Civilian Conservation Corps as a flood control project to protect towns and villages along the Winooski River Valley.
The term “reservoir” can refer to a man-made or natural lake, as well as cisterns and subterranean reservoirs. In this section we focus only on man-made reservoirs.
Man-made reservoirs are made when dams are constructed across rivers, or by enclosing an area that is filled with water. There are two main types of man-made reservoirs: impoundment and off-stream (also called off-river).
Reservoirs can vary in size and be as small as a pond and as big as a large lake. There is so much variability when it comes to reservoirs – they can differ in size, shape and location. For this reason, it can be misleading to make blanket statements about reservoirs without “significant qualification as to their type”.
Depending on the purpose of a reservoir, operators will fill a completed reservoir with water, let water flow on through the dam and downstream, or leave the reservoir site empty until it is needed (e.g. a dry dam site for flood mitigation).
Click image to enlarge.
An impoundment reservoir is formed when a dam is constructed across a river. Impoundment reservoirs are usually larger than off-river reservoirs and are the most common form of large reservoirs.
Off-stream reservoirs are reservoirs that are not on a river course. Rather, off-stream reservoirs are formed by partially or completely enclosed waterproof banks .
The embankments around an off-stream reservoir are usually made from concrete or clay. The size of an off-river reservoir will depend on how large of an area is excavated and how high the embankment is built.
Off-stream reservoirs are generally simple in shape and “virtually uniform in depth”  compared to impoundment reservoirs, which tend to have shallower shores and varying volumes and shapes.
Environmental Impact Assessment and Stakeholder Engagement
An environmental impact assessment (EIA) must be completed prior to construction beginning on a large or impactful reservoir and dam site. The EIA process is regulated at the federal government level by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency.
The Alberta government also has its own process for completing an EIA. Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development is responsible for the laws that are related to EIAs in Alberta (the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act and the Water Act). At an inter-governmental level, the Canada-Alberta Agreement on Environmental Assessment Cooperation is an agreement between the federal government and the government of Alberta that streamlines the EIA process and ensures that the EIA meets the requirements set out by both levels of government .
An EIA may include, but is not necessarily limited to, an analysis of the following:
Whether the safety of navigation is impacted by the proposed structure;
The impact of the structure on migratory fish; and
The impact of the structure on endangered riparian species or fragile ecosystems.
Depending on the location of the dam and reservoir, stakeholders may need to be consulted before construction can begin.
The construction of a reservoir and dam involves many steps that are taken carefully to ensure the dam is operational and meets all safety standards and environmental regulations.
Diverting the River
Before construction can begin, the river must be diverted in order to make the building process easier. Water can be diverted through constructed channels on the surface alongside the river or through underground tunnels through the rock alongside the river. Both of these methods allow the water to travel downstream of the reservoir site and minimize the amount of water travelling to the construction zone.
A temporary dam called a cofferdam is built above the main site of the permanent dam. The cofferdam is intended to protect the construction site in the event of a flood.
On wide rivers, a cofferdam may be built on one side of the river to allow water to flow through half of the riverbed. The area behind the cofferdam will be drained and the first half of the main dam will be constructed. This side of the main dam will not be constructed to completion. There will still be some holes in this section of the dam. The cofferdam will then be removed and the water will flow through the holes in the incomplete main dam.
Another set of cofferdams is built on the other side of the river and the rest of the main dam is fully constructed. In the final step, the original cofferdam will be reconstructed and the portion of the main dam behind the cofferdam is completed. Once the cofferdam is removed for the last time, the dam is complete and water is stored in the reservoir.
In some cases, rather than constructing an on-stream dam, a dam is built off-stream in a topographical depression suitable for holding water (off-stream reservoir). Once the dam is completed, the river will be diverted to the off-stream storage site .
Preparing the Foundation of the Dam
A crucial step in the lifecycle of building a dam is preparing its foundation. This is the first step in construction for an off-stream dam. For an on-stream structure, the dam foundation is prepared after the river has been diverted.
Once the construction site is drained of water, the dam foundation is excavated. All loose soils and sediment are removed, roots and vegetation are grubbed and all water is removed from the site until bedrock is exposed.
If a dam is being built utilizing a valleywall on one or both sides, any blocks of the valley wall that are unstable are removed. Hundreds to thousands of cubic metres of unsuitable rock may have to be removed to reach bedrock with the appropriate strength, stiffness and permeability characteristics required for construction.
The bedrock geology will be surveyed for faults and cavities. Any cavities are filled with grout to increase the stability of the bedrock and to prevent water from leaking underneath the dam. Concrete may be used to fill larger openings such as surface cracks, fissures or irregular surfaces. The foundation surface of the dam will be moistened with …
Summer lasted well into October this year, and it extended the busy season at the 850-acre Waterbury Reservoir.
Waterbury State Park often reported its parking lot was full on sunny days.
Little River State Park had more than 41,700 visitors — a 10 percent increase in overall use from 2016, boosted by new bike trails and upgraded campsites.
Waterbury State Park had just over 37,800 visitors to its day-use area, down 18 percent from 2016’s record 46,000. In total, nearly 80,000 visitors were logged in at the reservoir’s parks during the summer, not counting people who used access points that aren’t staffed.
The parks have five access points, several unstaffed, so those people and boats aren’t counted toward the total, but “anecdotally yes, we have seen an increase in usage, always dependent on weather,” said Chad Ummel, the reservoir’s “floating ranger.”
Summer was cold and rainy to start, and in June the reservoir had to close briefly when rainfall pushed the water level too high, but unexpected warmth in October boosted the overall numbers, Ummel said. The state parks actually extended their closing date to Oct. 10.
There was also an overflow effect: “When Lake Champlain has algae blooms, for instance, we do note that we receive more usage,” as when North Beach in Burlington had to be closed this summer, Ummel said.
Three years ago, the state government took over management of the remote campsites along the reservoir, and have been tracking the numbers of campers who visit. The sites are available only on a first-come, first-served basis.
“There was an initial transition because people have been camping on the reservoir for 80 years with virtually no regulation, no oversight, and there was a little bit pushback initially,” Ummel said. “But we found that most people have been quite appreciative for the state’s efforts, the composting toilets, just the presence on the water and overseeing has made for a more tranquil and enjoyable experience for most.”
Most campers seem to be Vermonters, Ummel said, but other New Englanders who have heard about the remote campsites often stay overnight.
“Once it became summer, it became nice,” said Chuck Hughson, co-owner of Waterbury Sports.
The store opened two years ago in Waterbury, and Hughson says added bike paths in Little River State Park and Perry Hill have definitely attracted more people to mountain biking, he said; the numbers show in his bike-rental business.
“More people are going out with their friends and realizing they can do it too,” Hughson said.
There was no break between fishing and hunting season at the Fly Rod Shop in Stowe, manager Parker Wright noted. “Lots of people come in looking for gear saying ‘Hi, I’m going down to the reservoir,’” he said.
The shop was much busier in October than in years prior, probably due to the weather, Wright said.
There were also lots of people getting out on the water in boats, canoes, kayaks, or on stand-up paddleboards.
“Waterbury Reservoir continues to be a tremendous resource for people to go paddling on,” said Steve Brownlee, owner of Umiak Outdoor Outfitters.
“One of the benefits that we have seen is more people renting boats late in the season. We had terrific warm temperatures in the months of September and October. But the other big difference is the new regulations for keeping the water level high is something new in the last two summers,” Brownlee said.
At the end of 2015, the state decided the Waterbury Reservoir should be maintained at its summertime levels year-round, at about 590 feet above sea level.
In the past, the reservoir was drained every fall to between 540 and 560 feet above sea level, making room for spring runoff, then restored before summer. Now, water flow through the dam is managed to more closely match the natural flow of the Little River.
Exhausted after playing all day, visitors headed into town, and businesses in Waterbury continue to see growth.
“The bars and restaurants love the increased traffic from people enjoying the trails and reservoir,” said Alyssa Johnson, Waterbury’s economic development director. “The activities feed off each other well. There’s nothing better than good food and a cold beer after a day outside.”
“The Waterbury Reservoir is unique. It is a true multi-use body of water where nearly everything is allowed from innertubes to seaplanes,” Ummel said. “So it’s a fascinating scope of use where you get to see people on stand-up paddleboards, and jet ski circles around them. It’s an exciting body of water.”
Waterbury Reservoir and Dam. Photo courtesy Barry Solman ANR.
Vermont Business Magazine Eight months of work is underway to improve public access areas at the Waterbury Reservoir. The project will require temporary closures at some sites while work is underway, and will include improvements to parking lots, erosion prevention, and boat ramp upgrades. The locations include Waterbury Dam Boat Launch, Blush Hill Boat Launch and the Moscow Paddler Access. Green Mountain Power (GMP) will be doing the work as part of the company’s commitment to improving the Waterbury Dam and surrounding areas. GMP recently received a renewed license from the Federal Energy Regulation Commission to operate a hydropower generation facility at the Waterbury Dam.
The Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation says the popularity of the Waterbury Reservoir is growing. “The improvements that Green Mountain Power will make over the next 8 months could not come at a better time,”said Susan Bulmer, Northeast State Parks Regional Manager.
“We know what a valuable community resource this waterway is and we’re glad to work with the state to make these important upgrades,” said Jason Lisai, Green Mountain Power’s Director of Generation Operations.
As part of the Green Mountain Power improvements, a parking area, river access, and anglers’ trail were recently installed along Little River Road just downstream of Waterbury Dam. The trail was constructed as a collaborative effort with the Vermont state trail crew and GMP. This river access is currently open to the public for use.
All three locations will be finished for the 2019 summer season. Long-term maintenance and management will be performed by the Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation.
Waterbury Reservoir is the ninth-largest waterbody in Vermont, created in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps as a flood control project. There are two State Parks and 30 remote campsites located on its shores and many people access the reservoir for boating, wildlife viewing, swimming, camping, and fishing each year. Waterbury Reservoir is surrounded almost completely by state land, managed primarily by the Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation as part of the 44,444-acre Mount Mansfield State Forest.
Waterbury Dam Boat Launch
Closed: October 14 – November 8, 2018 and February 8 – February 18, 2019
Site improvements will include:
Installation of a new composting toilet
Installation of a concrete boat launch
Paving of the access road and parking area (may occur in Spring 2019 depending on weather conditions)
Erosion control and site drainage improvements
Traffic flow improvements
Blush Hill Boat Launch
Closed: November 9 – November 27, 2018 and February 19 – February 27, 2019
August knows how to heat up in Vermont and we all need a swimming spot, not to mention a camping spot, a motor boating spot and a paddling spot. Waterbury Reservoir has it all. Free Press Reporter Molly Walsh caught up with Lucas Griggs, a park ranger at Waterbury Center State Park, Brian Aust, interpreter at Little River State Park and Terry Wendelken, park ranger at the reservoir.
BURLNGTON FREE PRESS: Waterbury Center State Park is a popular destination in the summer. What can people do there?
LUCAS GRIGGS: Waterbury offers a variety of different activities, like swimming, hiking, canoeing, kayaking, standup paddle boarding and, of course, picnicking. But, this is the first year programs are being offered here, too. Every weekend this summer park staff has organized free park-based programs for children and adults, including scavenger hunts, sand castle competitions and even a few water balloon fights. All of the upcoming park programs are listed on the events page at vtstateparks.com.
BFP: On a hot day the beach draws many people, including families. Is this a good place for children?
LG: Absolutely! The water is clear and clean, and has a very gradual slope, so it’s ideal for little ones. There is also a universally accessible trail that leads to a historical look out, which is about a 20-minute walk for a toddler, and has benches along the way to stop at and watch the frogs by the water. (One of my favorite things to do at the park is run up the park’s big hill with my 3-year-old and roll down the other side.)
BFP: Paddlers come to the reservoir, as do motor boaters. What sorts of rules do you ask people to follow so these different types of watercraft float along happily along together?
LG: Waterbury Center State Park gets busy with boaters of all kinds, and rules keep everybody happy and organized. The water is governed by state laws and regulations, indicating appropriate vessel course and speed. The reservoir also has clear markers indicating no wake zones and swimming areas. From the moment you arrive at the park you are guided through proper boating procedure and water etiquette. For more information about boating regulations check online at http://www.boat-ed.com/vermont/studyGuide/101049, or http://www.vtstateparks.com/pdfs/waterbury_boating.pdf
BFP: There are a number of campsites on the reservoir. How are they accessible and how far in advance do people need to book? How much does it cost?
TERRY WENDELKEN: Campsites are available at Little River State Park for standard park entrance/overnight fees, also remote camping is available first-come, first-serve for the established remote site locations. Remote sites are accessible by motorboat, kayak, or canoe. There are also sites that can be walked into.
LG: You’re right, as of right now there are quite a few campsites on the water, and most of them are water access only. Campers load up their boats with themselves and all of their camping gear, and head out to find an open site on a first come first serve basis. At this point, it’s all free. These sites were established over decades by avid remote campers who understood the essentials for a great campsite. Over the next few years Vermont State Parks will be working with those campers to improve and maintain the sites for perpetuity.
BFP: What’s the water temperature right now on the reservoir?
LG: As of right now the water temperature is 78 degrees at the beach and 72 degrees farther out. Perfect for water sports.Your stories live here.Fuel your hometown passion and plug into the stories that define it.Create Account
BFP: Tell us a little bit about the history of the reservoir, when it was constructed, why and how it operates now.
BRIAN AUST: The history of the reservoir starts with the precursor to Green Mountain Power. In the late 1910s, a new power company was searching for good places to build hydroelectric dams. Herb Pike, the last owner of the vast Ricker Farm, was the first of the Little River area residents to sell his farm to the nascent power company in 1921. After several years of acquiring properties, the great November 1927 flood changed everything. A very rainy autumn led up to the Great Flood of 1927. On November 3 and 4 it rained nine inches upon a saturated landscape devoid of the vast forests that had been cleared over the previous 130 years. The runoff surged the Little River into such a powerful force that where it meets the Winooski River (along present-day U.S. 2), that it forcibly blocked the Winooski from draining downstream, pooling its waters backward and inundating the town of Waterbury under 15 feet of water. Fifty-five people were killed by flood waters along the Little and Winooski Rivers alone and over 80 died statewide. This put a temporary pause to the power company’s plans.
After surveying the area for a potential flood control dam in 1928, the onset of the Great Depression in 1929 delayed any work until the advent of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs. One of these, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), was requisitioned by the State of Vermont in the mid-1930s to build a variety of public works projects and state park facilities. The few remaining residents of the area were compensated for their properties which were acquired via eminent domain with the backing of the U.S. government because their road to town would be cut off by the new reservoir. The Waterbury Reservoir Dam was constructed by the CCC as part of a three-dam project to protect Vermont towns from catastrophic flooding. When regional flooding raises the level of the Winooski River to 417 feet above sea level, the dam’s steel floodgates are lowered to catch high rain waters flowing into the reservoir, which is the released over time at a safe and manageable pace. After its completion in 1938, Green Mountain Power returned to work with the existing structure toward creating the hydroelectric plant that was completed in …
The Waterbury Dam, which was built in 1938 and repaired numerous times, most recently in 2007, needs additional work, which may be completed if it receives federal funding.
The Waterbury Dam, which was built in 1938 and repaired numerous times, most recently in 2007, needs additional work, which may be completed if it receives federal funding.
Sen. Patrick Leahy said money for repairs is included in a $20 million appropriation included in the Senate’s Energy and Water Appropriations bill, which must be approved by the full Congress and signed by the president.
Benjamin Green, an engineer for Vermont’s Dam Safety program, said a Risk Assessment must first be performed, followed by a Dam Safety Modification Report prior to final design and construction.
“The Risk Assessment, Modification Report and Design will likely take several years so it could be four to five years or more before construction begins,” he said.
Green noted that the last significant repair of the dam was in the early 2000s and was related to seepage. A partial secant cut-off wall was installed but couldn’t be completed due to technical issues.
“Six dewatering wells were also installed to pump leakage water out of the dam, he said. “During this project, and during regular test operations of the flood gates at the principal spillway, one of the gates jammed. This required temporary repairs to the gates and prompted a structural analysis of the gates, which deemed them unable to safely maintain a full flood pool. The objective of the upcoming spillway repair project is to permanently address the issues with the flood gates and spillway through repair or replacement.”
The job will be completed through a partnership between the state of Vermont, the dam owner, and the Army Corps of Engineers, who originally designed and oversaw construction of the dam and continues to provide the state with technical and funding assistance.
“We would do the Risk Assessments and other items to evaluate what needs to be done,” said Matthew Cosby, project manager of the Corps of Engineers. “We may do it in house and not contract it out, although we won’t do the actual construction.”
He said the Corps of Engineers is contracted by Congress to do construction and repairs of the Waterbury Bridge.
The Corps lowered the reservoir pool in 1981 and injected filler material in 1984 and reconstructed a portion of the toe of the dam and installed grouting in the gorge area to remediate seepage and settlement.
Vermont requested the Corps to conduct a dam safety assurance study to address conditions of the dam. The study was completed in 2000 and issued alternatives that included complete removal of the dam, constructing a new dam, reconstructing the gorge area or constructing a cutoff wall. The recommended plan called for constructing a filter shaft and monitoring structure in the gorge area to correct the seepage conditions. Construction was initiated in July 2002 and the installation of filters on the outlet conduit was completed in November 2002. Work in 2003 consisted of the initiation of construction of the secant cutoff wall and seepage control wells. Construction of the secant wall and dewatering system continued in 2004 through 2006. The Fiscal Year 2004 Appropriations Bill directed the Corps to design and construct a repair for the concrete spillway.
The spillway repair contract was awarded to Alltech Engineering in July 2005 at a cost of $693,000 and construction work was successfully completed in December 2005. The repairs were expected to extend the useful life of the spillway gates by 10 to 15 years. As part of this effort, a Design Report was prepared in 2006 for a full replacement of the spillway at a future date. The operation of the gates is restricted in part due to structural deficiencies and the flood storage pool cannot be raised to the full height as intended. The mitigation contract was awarded to Fleet Environmental in August 2005 at a price of $621,000 and work was completed in November 2006. Additional work to repair areas of the slope was performed on the mitigation site in fall 2007 and completed.
The state of Vermont allowed the reservoir to refill in September 2006. The reservoir reached normal pool at the end of October 2006 and overall construction of the seepage control measures was substantially completed in January 2007 with punch list items completed in fall 2007 and formally turned over to the state of Vermont. An 18-month performance and monitoring period followed the reservoir refill and demonstrated that the seepage control features continued to operate satisfactorily. The completed project, including the operation and maintenance of the project, was turned over to the state in September 2010.
Waterbury Dam is located on the Little River 3 mi. upstream from its junction with the Winooski River in Waterbury. The dam consists of a rolled earth embankment approximately 1,850 ft. long at its crest, 187 ft. high at its maximum section above the original river channel, and approximately 1,000 ft. wide at the maximum section. The spillway section is 261 ft. long and consists of two components. The first is a 161-ft. wide ungated concrete section with a crest elevation of 617.5 ft.
The second section is 100-ft. wide, contains three tainter gates, and has a sill elevation of 592 ft. The gates are 26.5-ft. high. Two of the gates are 20-ft. wide and were part of the original dam construction. The third is 35-ft. wide and was added in 1958 as part of a modification of the dam to satisfy updated hydrologic and hydraulic requirements.
“The Waterbury Dam and Waterbury Reservoir draw people from around Vermont and the country to appreciate our Green Mountain state,” said Leahy. “Tropical Storm Irene once again proved how crucial Waterbury Dam is to the safety and resilience of surrounding towns. I am glad the committee has supported my effort to once again provide the Army Corps of Engineers with the funds it needs to make much-needed repairs to this important piece …
Some people like to hang out in spooky graveyards around Halloween, and we’ve found the spookiest one of them. But this isn’t your typical cemetery. No, this is a graveyard of ice cream flavors. Cue the horrified gasps.
Ben & Jerry’s Flavor Graveyard, near the company’s plant and headquarters in Waterbury, Vermont, is where discontinued flavors go for their final rest. It’s also a neat tourist stop for ice cream lovers the world over. There, you can remember the flavors of days gone by like Wavy Gravy, Rainforest Crunch, Peanuts! Popcorn! or Ethan Almond. (RIP)
At the moment, the graveyard holds over 40 discontinued flavors that were either taken off the shelves to save space or were just mistakes against ice cream science. Did we really need popcorn-flavored ice cream? Each flavor in this sweet cemetery even has its own special epitaph for mourners to lament over.
“Ben & Jerry’s is known for outrageous, chunky, funky flavors,” said Flavor Guru Eric Fredette in a company press release. “But experimentation comes with risk, and not everybody likes our edgier ideas. Like everything else, ice cream flavors have a beginning and an end.”
This year, visitors who take a Ben & Jerry’s factory tour, along with a visit to the Flavor Graveyard, between Oct. 29 and 31 will be treated to a sample of a limited edition pumpkin pie ice cream available only in Waterbury. Everything’s better with ice cream, after all, even a stroll through a spooky “graveyard.”
More information on the Flavor Graveyard and Halloween tour can be found on the Ben & Jerry’s website. If you can’t make it to Vermont to pay your respect, a virtual tour is the next best thing.…
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
This article is by Miranda Orso, of the Stowe Reporter, in which it was first published Sept. 18, 2014.
There’s a real possibility that the 850-acre Waterbury Reservoir could simply go away.
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 do 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.
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.”…
Like Lake Champlain, the Waterbury Reservoir is beloved, and fiercely protected by people like me — and you.
We also know the reservoir’s health is at risk from the thousands of annual boaters, paddlers, anglers, and campers who do not always practice leave-no-trace, by the water-quality impacts of upriver agricultural and development runoff, by the introduction of aquatic and terrestrial invasive species, and by the conflicting priorities of a growing number of stakeholders.
At dawn a couple of Friday mornings ago, I launched my solo canoe onto the northern tip of the reservoir with my favorite paddling companion — a giant 6-year-old black Labrador retriever named Gabe. Gabe sleeps in the canoe, snoring loudly as his head rests on the gunwales.
At dawn, the Waterbury Reservoir is simply enchanting. In this magical moment around 6 a.m., the lifting fog races from south to north. A bluebird sky gradually emerges through a hole in the cloud. Sun rays stream urgently toward earth, and then suddenly disappear with the dissolving fog. The water sparkles with diamonds as the surface warms.
I watch for the bald eagles that nest nearby or the magnificent osprey. A fish jumps. A waterbug flitters. Canada geese and mallards fly overhead.
The lake is cool and smooth, disturbed only by the soft wake of my canoe. Water drips rhythmically from my paddle as Gabe and I slowly make our way to our favorite swimming and tennis-ball-chasing spot. A trout is startled by the shadow of my paddle overhead.
At dawn, the reservoir seems silent and pristine, until one listens and observes with intention.
An angler and a sleepy young boy cast their lines from the shore, not really caring whether they catch anything. That’s not really the point, after all. But to get to this spot, they’ve cut their way through a dense mat of 7-foot-tall Japanese knotweed, tossing the stems into the moving river.
A great blue heron — an indicator species for the health of a lake — casts her bright golden eyes on me suspiciously. It seems to me improbable that such a large bird could be held firmly upon those slender legs.
She is standing in a patch of an invasive brittle naiad and I tell her I am sorry for that, but I know that our new boat access greeter is educating people about preventing the spread of invasive species into her lake.
A nervous beaver lures me from her pups and slaps the water surface, and slips into a den that this spring was adorned with a fading yellow laundry detergent bottle and a truck tire. The bottle and the tire are gone now, thanks to Green Up Day volunteers. I am proud of the two-year trash data study we conducted with support from Rozalia Project for a Clean Ocean and the resulting stewardship in the reservoir community.
In the mud along the river shore, there are tracks of a bear, a deer, a variety of birds, dogs of course, and from the angler and his son’s rubber boots too close to the eroding river shoreline.
At the end of our journey, Gabe and I return to the canoe launch and slosh through the smelly, silty water, carefully step around the deep gully that flows from the busy gravel parking area directly into the river. I am proud, though, that this ecological mess will be addressed this summer with state-of-the-art, low-impact, green technology and community outreach.
Our little nonprofit is making progress on our reservoir, thanks to effective partnerships and relationships.
The lake may be our teacher. It can tell us what it needs, but only when we listen.
We know that we can address the lake’s needs only when we research, understand, experiment; when we communicate, collaborate, and change our course when necessary — as do paddlers in a tandem kayak, or a Lake Champlain dragon boat.…