River restoration work begins

Anyone taking a stroll downtown along the San Juan River has no doubt noticed work in progress, with the Davey’s Wave structure, a river landmark for the past several years, consigned to the rubble of Pagosa area history.

With approval letters from the Army Corps of Engineers (ACoE) and Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) received by Pagosa Springs staff last Wednesday, Riverbend Engineering started work early last Thursday on Phase I of the river restoration project.

According to Chris Phillips of Riverbend Engineering, lead contractor on the project, work on the entire phase of the project should take a total of two weeks.

Currently, diversion dams have been set up to dry out the perimeter of the work area and facilitate digging down through the bedrock for the drop in front of the whitewater structure. Weather permitting, concrete will be poured starting early today in order to shore up the first structure.

Phase I of the project calls for the installation of a cross vane structure as well as the new whitewater feature being installed in front of the Visitor’s Center. The new structure will have a net drop in water surface of two feet, while the downstream cross vane structure, close to the former location of Davey’s Wave, will have a net drop of one foot. Work on the cross vane structure should begin early next week.

The second structure will not have a radical drop in the way the first structure has (or was evident with Davey’s Wave) but will create a whitewater “run” that, although giving boaters a bumpy ride for several meters, is in place primarily to mitigate hydraulic effects from the first structure’s drop.

Phase I also includes habitat structures installed near the 6th Street bend, complying with Colorado Division of Wildlife mandates for the “Fishing is Fun” project.

“Our time frame is a little over two weeks,” he added, “because we’re pulling double duty, doing work on the whitewater portion and installing the “Fishing is Fun” structures.”

Equipment being used for the project has been donated by the Wolf Creek Ski Area, including paying for the rental on a hydraulic rock breaker.

Phase II of the project is slated for this fall. However, the economy — and it’s effect on town revenues from local sales tax — is the ultimate arbiter as to if and when the second phase will proceed. Phase II of the project calls for the installation of one or two more whitewater structures installed in the portion of the river adjacent to Town Park.

Before the structures can be built, however, additional ACoE and DOW permitting will be required. With permits normally taking three months to process, actual work on Phase II would not begin until the winter.

In that phase, crews will be required to tear out several feet of bedrock in order to accommodate installation of the new structures. According to Phillips, the Wolf Creek ski area has again committed to donating equipment and paying rent on a rock breaker.

Should the town find the money to fund Phase II, Phillips predicts that work will be completed before the 2010 boating season.


SUN photos/Chuck McGuire
Heavy machinery was in the San Juan River during the past week, working on the installation of the first of two structures in a new river restoration project.