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Call to Action about the Waterbury Dam

In this Issue

  • Call to Action
  • What you can do NOW
  • History & Factoids
  • Related Links
  • Reservoir at Risk, article as published in the Waterbury Record
Friends of Waterbury Reservoir is a Vermont non-profit organization committed to protecting, improving and enhancing the ecological, recreational, and community values of the Waterbury Reservoir. We accomplish this through stewardship, research, community involvement, collaboration with all stakeholders, and connecting people and place. To learn more about our Mission, Vision & Core Values, visit
Call to Action
In response to the Waterbury Record’s article last week titled, “Reservoir at Risk” [reprinted below], it is helpful to understand what has prompted this community conversation about the water levels on the Waterbury Reservoir and some basics about the Reservoir, the Dam itself, and the cast of stakeholders and their responsibilities and goals.

Green Mountain Power / Hydro Quebec (GMP) is granted a license to operate Little River Hydroelectric facility at the Waterbury Dam by the VT Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). DEC is required by the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to ensure that federal environmental standards are met for hydroelectric operations in Vermont. What’s referred to as the “GMP’s FERC Relicensing” is the topic of the public information meeting next month. We’re told that readers should expect a press release or Letter to the Editor from DEC soon which will explain this re-licensing and its public involvement process.

The VT Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation (FPR) is responsible for the management of the Mt. Mansfield State Forest lands which surround the Reservoir as well as the Little River State Park and Waterbury Center State Park.

Laurie Smith, President
What you can do NOW
  1. Join us at the Vt. Dept. of Environmental Conservation's public information meeting on October 7, 2014, 6:30-8:30 at Thatcher Brook Primary School in Waterbury. Go to that meeting armed with reliable information, share your questions and comments about this very complex issue, and be prepared to listen to a variety of perspectives.
  2. Submit your comments within the public comment period which ends October 21, 2014, via email to or letter to Jeff Crocker, VT Dept. of Environmental Conservation, 1 National Life Dr., Main 2, Montpelier, VT 05620-3522.
  3. Continue to stay informed about next steps in this process at and

History & Factoids

  • Construction of the Waterbury Dam was completed in October 1938 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in cooperation with the US Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE).
  • It is an earth built dam with a stone slope for protection totaling 562 meters long by 57 meters high.
  • It is situated on the Little River, about 2.5 miles above its confluence with the Winooski River.
  • The Waterbury Reservoir is the 8th largest lake in Vermont and is located entirely within the Mount Mansfield State Forest in Waterbury Center, although the Cottonbrook Block forest road on the northern end is mainly located in Stowe.
  • 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.
  • On average the pool behind the dam covers an area of 3.6 square kilometers (nearly 860 acres) when filled to 589.5 feet above sea level.
  • In total, the Waterbury Reservoir can hold up to 34 million cubic meters (9 billion gallons) of water and services a drainage area of 175 square kilometers.
  • In June 1953, private interests completed construction of the Little River Hydro Station hydroelectric power plant at the base of the dam, which generates approximately 5.5 megawatts of power and is used by the Green Mountain Power. GMP is owned by Hydro-Quebec.
  • Since the 1990's, the Reservoir was drained twice to a level of approximately 565 feet for several years to allow for repairs and improvements to the Waterbury Dam and for bank stabilization work on the banks of Little River State Park. When the dam repairs are underway, the State of Vermont quit-claims ownership of the dam to the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE). There is an ongoing and separate conversation about permanently transferring the ownership of the Waterbury Dam to the ACOE.
US Army Corps of Engineers
VT Agency of Natural Resources

Related Links

Reservoir Could be at Risk

Dispute over water levels might eliminate Waterbury
recreation destination

Miranda Orso, Waterbury Record / Photos by Gordon Miler

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.

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.”



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