Safe Navigation at Low-Head Dams can be a challenge. Many of these dams have had significant safety issues involving people flowing over the dam and into a keeper hydraulic that led to fatal results and dangerous rescues. Until recently, these dams, which often reside in towns and cities that once relied upon them for cheap energy, have been an unmitigated risk. However, S2o Design and Engineering has begun redesigning low-head dams to create a safe boater bypass, and often the resulting design creates attractive recreation.
Dams provide energy, water, and can mitigate flooding, but, unless they are designed correctly, dams can be hazards to in-stream recreation and a barrier to fish passage. Some of these dams, such as the Bow River Weir, have killed or injured more than 21 people. These features are virtual drowning machines. The unfortunate reality of these dams is that many of them were built early in the 20th century and few of them are designed with recreational boating nor kayakers in mind.
S2o Design and Engineering has been working with many clients to improve the level of safety at these dams. S2o works to either help remove the dam, if it is no longer needed, or to preserve and reinforce the dam while creating recreational rapids below the dam in lieu of the dangerous keeper left in the original design. S2o’s clients include everyone from small diversion dams, such as the Supply Ditch, for which we completely redesigned and rebuilt their dam, to Duke Power, who is building a large boater bypass on a 14’ high dam in the Catawba River.
The purpose of these projects is to create a navigable river, where people who are qualified and equipped to be out paddling are able to navigate the weir or low-head dam without fear of being pulled under. We work with the client to ensure that a proposed solution meets their budget, is appropriate for the environment in which it is placed, and provides for safe navigation.
S2o Design and Engineering designs these bypasses several ways. The process can include anything from detailed physical modeling as we did for the Catawba Dam in South Carolina and the Bow River Dam in Calgary, AB; three-dimensional computational fluid dynamics modeling (CFD) as we did for the Thurman Mill Diversion in Boise, CO; or through known geometry and one and two-dimensional modeling as we did for the Lyons Ditch Diversion, the Supply Ditch Diversion, and the Pueblo Whitewater Park and Diversion project.
One of our most common tasks at the outset of a whitewater park project is to initiate the effort with a Conceptual and Feasibility Design Study
My name is Dusty Stinson—owner and founder of Coosa Outfitters in Gadsden, Alabama. Our outfitter’s store has the distinction of being the best place to buy whitewater boats and equipment in the “Store not near Whitewater” category. We are located just off of interstate 59 and have a thriving business in spite of the fact that there is no whitewater in this town today. I believe that our existence alone showcases the opportunity to create whitewater in this town. We already know that whitewater people come to Gadsden; I want to build a whitewater park here so that they will stay.
Gadsden is a former steel-mill town. We’re the type of place in which you would least expect to find a whitewater park. People here are traditional and our economy has historically been based on traditional means. Now that the steel mill is gone things are changing in Gadsden—we are proud of our heritage as a manufacturing center but would also like to evolve our economy to the realities that now surround us. One of the ways I’d like to do this is to develop a whitewater park that showcases our Town’s history and that draws people into town to learn a little bit about us and maybe drive our economy a little by staying in a hotel or eating in a restaurant.
I worked with my Town to try and find funding options for the project through a number of differing avenues but, to be honest, a whitewater park is a new concept for most folks here and it was hard to gain traction. In the end I read about Scott Shipley at S2o Design in a magazine and began to work with them to see if they could help our project develop a vision and get off the ground. Gadsden was willing to foot the bill for a site-visit and concept design study and Scott flew out to meet with myself, the Town Mayor and Town Manager, and the local Tourism Director.
Within six weeks S2o had identified a site, developed a concept design, project cost, and report that described the challenges and opportunities for the project. This information mapped the way-forward for our project by giving me something I could speak to—here is what the project looks like; here’s what it does; here’s what it costs; and here’s how we get it moving. This was something that we could use to get the project off the ground.
The design that S2o used was also highly innovative. S2o chose a site that was at an existing dam and created a design that would leverage the energy there while providing for fish passage and improving navigation on our creek. The site also had ready-made raw materials to create access, parking, and streamside amenities. My favorite part of the project was S2o’s suggestion—and architectural rendering—that utilizes the old pump-house located at the dam as a possible future vendor operation. This was exactly the kind of design that would drive visitors to come of the Interstate and experience both the whitewater and a piece of the town’s steel working history.
The in-stream design was also innovative in that it uses adjustable obstacle systems to tune the wave for varying flows. I needed a park in town that would work at low flows for tubing and lessons and at higher flows so that people would come here to boat when the surf was “up”. This high-tech solution met all of these requirements and more.
Work with your local town or city to get these things started. Its something that is going to benefit everyone and having your City on board from the start is going to avoid a lot of heartache later
Your first objective is to get this Conceptual Design Study done. The last thing you want to do is be in the Mayor’s office or a town council meeting trying to sell a project that is completely abstract—you need a plan, a cost, and a route to completion.
Understand your users and design to them—S2o did a great job of this, they understood our Town and so leveraged our Steel-mill Dam and Pumphouse to showcase our history, they understood that we would draw people from the highway who were not yet boaters so designed for tubing and rafting, and they understood we wanted whitewater for the expert as well as beginner so innovated an adjustable design.
During the September 2013 flooding every user of the St. Vrain Creek was impacted including agricultural, municipal, commercial, and recreational users. On top of impacts to the users of the St. Vrain the environmental impacts of the flood have been far reaching with the decimation of riparian habitat and severe impacts to the fishery. As the users reconstruct their critical infrastructure there is a new opportunity to create infrastructure that achieves the goals for the owner while also providing benefits for other users and the environment.
S2o is proud to be a part of this process and are implementing a design process that benefits all users and the environment in our projects. The diverse backgrounds of our team members bring expertise in whitewater park design, dam design, and river restoration design that shines in the design of multipurpose projects that benefit many interests. One example of a multipurpose project being implemented on the St. Vrain Creek is the Supply Irrigating Ditch Company diversion structure. Historically, the structure was an at grade concrete dam that was barely noticeable in the creek unless you looked close. During the flood significant erosion occurred downstream of the structure degrading the channel by up to three feet. S2o was hired by the ditch company to design a diversion dam that met their needs and benefited other users of the St. Varin Creek.
The ditch company used a temporary diversion structure for the 2014 irrigation season. The temporary structure was constructed of concrete barriers, concrete rubble, and anything else the ditch company could easily use to get water into their ditch. The temporary structure was not very effective at diverting water and was a significant hazard to any in stream user of the St. Vrain Creek. The hazards created by this temporary structure made the reconstruction of the diversion dam a high priority for safety as well as the ditch company’s need to divert water in 2015.
With this significant amount of degradation an at grade structure was not going to be possible for the rebuilt diversion structure. The first step in the design process was to determine the crest elevation of the structure. The crest elevation of the structure was dictated by the design criteria of being able to divert the allocated water down the ditch inlet. The necessary crest elevation combined with the degradation of the channel lead to an elevation drop of two feet across the structure. To create a structure that would address environmental concerns of fish passage and create a recreational experience a grouted rock ramp structure with a notch for fish passage at low flow was designed. Also, to facilitate fish passage the grouting of the structure will not go to the tops of the rocks allowing paths for fish to swim through the interstitial spaces in the structure. The hydraulic conditions across the grouted rock ramp and in the tail water pool were designed in the same manner as a whitewater park structure. This will allow the water that is not diverted down the ditch inlet to be enjoyed by recreational users. The designed structure will meet all of the project requirements by diverting the allocated water down the ditch, allowing fish passage, and providing recreational opportunities.
This project is a great example of a multipurpose structure that achieves the goals of the owner while also providing for other users. In this case the owner’s agricultural, municipal, and commercial interests are maintained with a structure that benefits recreational users and the environment.
Construction of the structure is scheduled to begin in the near future and the structure will be completed by May 1, 2015. Upon completion a highly visible structure will be in the forefront for multipurpose projects as the St. Vrain and other nearby watersheds recover from the 2013 floods. S2o is leading the way with well-coordinated multipurpose projects.
River restoration is a challenge–particularly in an urban environment where the river is highly impacted and the river banks are often highly developed. Project goals and objectives must be carefully stated and project constraints and limitations must be carefully defined and evaluated. S2o has begun work on a $2.5 million restoration of the St. Vrain river following the worst flood in recorded history for this valley. The starting point of this project is the most developed, confined, and, from a design standpoint, challenging, reaches in the river. The goal of the project? To minimize flood impacts and increase resiliency in the river by recreating a healthy river- and eco-system.
What is a healthy river and eco-system: one good way to understand what a healthy, resilient river looks like is to understand what a typical unhealthy river looks like. Fortunately, we have, or had, this type of area in Town located downstream of the 5th Avenue Bridge on the North Fork of the St. Vrain. This area was a great example of a typical urban and highly impacted river before the flood. In this area human development has severely encroached on the river to the point where all of the flow is confined between two steep banks. This was done by landowners literally filling the floodplain with earth to build houses and streets that were positioned right along both sides of the main channel with very little breadth left for expansion during a flood event. In order to handle moderate flooding events the people who built on both sides of the river built higher walls with fill at higher elevations so that more water translated to more depth. This higher depth translated to higher velocities during flood events, and a channel that was largely denuded of habitat or complexity due to scour and excavation. The North St. Vrain in this reach had become a square-bottomed ditch.
By comparison, a healthier river is one in which the river is a complex system with a defined low-flow channel, a defined river channel, some sinuosity, and room to expand into a floodplain. The floodplain is a riparian area that typically includes a wealth of native trees and plants on a low bench near the river. As the river rises, energy is diffused into this area which is important. There are also a variety of species that thrive in this ecosystem and rely on regular flooding. Each of these components plays a role in healthy river function.
In the area downstream of 5th avenue, which is an area that can be viewed in the coming weeks as it is developed. You will see that S2o has designed just such a multistage river and are building it now. In this instance the multi-stage river is wedged within a fairly tight space yet it will provide each of these components. The process of designing and implementing this project included:
a) An evaluation of the watershed at varying reach scales to define priorities and objectives for this particular reach within the context of the entire river system.
b) A conceptual design process in which varying solutions to meet these objectives were defined and evaluated until an acceptable design was reached (this process included a phase of public process which all of the town was invited to and invited to pose both questions and comments).
c) A computer modeling phase in which extensive floodplain modeling was completed to ensure that no one’s home or property was negatively impacted by the project and that velocities and depths met design objectives.
d) Several stages of design including grading, wall plans, design of the river, design of the habitat, and planting plans. As a part of this process the project received all required permits to verify that these plans met all the regulatory requirements for doing this work in a river in Colorado.
One of our concerns is about losing trees and riparian habitat along the river. The design team took all care possible to preserve as much plant life as possible and is replanting extensively to replace and improve the trees and riparian habitat lost. The good and bad news is that, over the last 50-100 years, the confined and unhealthy river has still seen tree growth and riparian growth along its banks. Many of these trees and plants are rooted in the same fill used to encroach upon the river years ago. In order to remove this fill and open the river up to create a healthy river system, these trees and plants need to be removed. Without this, we make only band-aid improvements that do not protect the Town nor improve stream health. We will replant native trees (over 10,000 trees or plants are being planted) as part of this project, once a healthy river system has been re-created. Please know that tree removal is not done lightly, but that extensive survey, design, computer modeling, and analysis was been completed prior to making these choices. Additionally, an arborist has been consulted when in doubt about individual trees and choices are then made based on this information.
Additionally, S2o has worked with consultants to implement fish habitat in microsystems along the river. The larger pool/riffle sequence has been further modified with imported boulders and superficial grading to create pools, riffles and velocity barriers in the river. S2o has also added woody debris and classic fish habitat structures such as bendway weirs, j-hooks, cross-veins, and deflectors to further increase the habitat functionality of the project.
The completed river will have less flood risk, be more resilient, will decrease velocities and stress on the river, and will provide a thriving eco-system for both in-stream and riparian habitat. This is a project that meets and exceeds the goals laid out in Lyons Long Range Recovery Process and one that provides us with a Town that will better endure the next flood.
Tavares, however, wasn’t in a boat; he was on a stand-up paddleboard.
“The water level is great this year,” he said. “It’s my first time surfing and paddling on the Animas, so I’m super-stoked.”
SUPs, as they’re called, are becoming a more common sight, and this year’s long-standing river festival – started by local paddler Nancy Wiley in 1982 – is no different. There are three new events dedicated to the SUPs – more than ever before.
Festival spokesperson Hope Tyler said there are several new aspects this year all based around the new vibe that Santa Rita is taking on, in and out of the water.
“Well, there’s the new park,” she said of the whitewater park that opened last year. “We’re one of the few parks that has eight features.”
On dry land, the hardscaping is complete. Now, the landscaping begins.
“This is what you’re going to see for upcoming events,” Tyler said.
Local rivers have spiked as snow continues to melt in the high country, coupled with good amounts of precipitation the region has received late in the year. One of the warmer days of the spring, the brown water carried logs and debris downstream picked up by the swell. Tyler said bets were going around the festival on what Saturday’s high water would be.
“We just hit 2,000 this morning,” she said. “People are excited.”
The competitions were so many, one would end, and another would begin – kayaking slaloms, SUP slaloms, SUP and boatercross. Every so often, rafts fully loaded would charge through the waves. There were dog tricks and film screenings. On Saturday night, an evening freestyle kayak competition was to be held.
On Sunday, the third day of the festival, there will be clinics all day offered by 4 Corners Riversports.
Animas River Days events coordinator Stacy Falk said competitors came from all corners of the globe.
“Last year, we had 40; this year, we have 100,” she said. “And they’re from England, France, New Zealand.”
Several professional athletes came specifically to represent SUP, spearheaded by whitewater instructors Anna and Drew Fisher of Surf the San Juans.
“The pros that are here are here because of them,” Falk said.
Ross Montandon of Noddingham, England, is on a four-month U.S. tour kayaking with his team. After the kayak slalom races, he stepped away to steal a look at the river.
“It’s like a traveling circus,” he said about his tour. In Durango for the first time, Montandon said the beauty of the West is the access.
Tyler said the 3,000 to 4,000 people that line the river for the annual river parade bear testimony.
Falk, who called Saturday “the most insane day of her life,” said event officials worked hard to make the festival stand out.
“If we want to get a sponsor like those big events that we want to compete with have, we need to prove that we can get people here, and we proved that (Saturday),” she said.
Team Rider Brittany Parker checked in with this recap of the Animas River Days event last weekend in Durango, Colorado. Photos by Heather Jackson.
Durango was a pleasant surprise for the Badfish crew. We had no idea how much the South-West Colorado college town was stoked on stand up paddling and river surfing. Durango is arguably the best paddling community in the State of Colorado, with a long history of whitewater paddling, so it was easy for us to feel at home at the Animas River Days at the Santa Rita Park.
To kick off the event team athletes Natali Zollinger and Brittany Parker organized a two day downriver and river surfing clinic hosted by the local paddling shop 4Corners Riversports. They worked on pivot turns, reading water, paddling technique, footwork, and had students paddling into the wave standing up by day two!
Saturday was jam packed with events and there wasn’t one podium without a team paddler on it. The beer was flowing from the Ska brewing tent and the crowd lined the bank waiting for the show to begin. Everyone loves carnage and the ‘Last Paddler Standing’ competition, promises it. Beginning at the top of the whitewater park the paddler has to make it through a series of substantial holes without falling off their board, otherwise it’s immediate disqualification. The crowd was roaring, rooting for most of us to fall, but Mike T. and Brittany Parker (on their 9’0” MVP) held their own placing in the top three.
Although, surf comps aren’t the norm for whitewater events, Durango is setting the stage for river surfing to become a competitive addition to event schedules. The guys were in their element and out to win. Between Zack Hughes spinning 540’s, Spencer Lacy’s pop shuv-its, and Mike Tavares’ hard carves they swept the podium.
We loved the Animas River Days but what really made an impression on us was the surf sessions outside of the competition. The local surfers are out there every day charging and encouraging others to try. They are true examples of what we all love about this community and the sport. We will be back next year! -Brittany Parker
National Public Radio visits S2o’s offices to learn more about S2o’s role as the designer of the London Olympic Whitewater slalom venue for 2012. This profile explores the challenges and design process that led to this industry leading whitewater park.