Waterbury Reservoir Risk Management Project
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.
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, which is operated and maintained by the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation.
There is fishing throughout the reservoir area. The state stocks rainbow and brown trout, and the reservoir contain self-sustaining smallmouth bass, yellow perch, brown bullhead, fallfish, golden shiners, pumpkinseed, white suckers, and long nose suckers. The state has also introduced smelt eggs to the Little River. Ice fishing is permitted. There is in-season hunting for native deer, ruffed grouse, and gray squirrel.
In June 1953, private interests completed the construction of a hydroelectric power plant situated at the base of the dam. This facility, the Little River Hydro Station, generates approximately 5.5 megawatts of power, which is used by the Green Mountain Power Corporation.