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Weber hydro plant seeks improvements, more decades of service

SOUTH WEBER, Davis County — Sandwiched between rock cliffs and a river near the mouth of Weber Canyon, the Weber Hydroelectric Project has been standing for more than a century, generating power for nearly 2,000 homes.

The project, which is on the National Register of Historic Places because of its significance in the history of developing electric service in Utah, is preparing for another 30 years of service by initiating a renewal of its federal license.

“We have excellent working relationships with the state and federal agencies involved in the operation of the Weber project,” said Eve Davies, Rocky Mountain Power's project manager on the license renewal.

“As well, these relationships extend to organizations and individuals interested in fishing, recreation and wildlife habitat associated with the company’s hydroelectric projects," Davies said.

While no signficant changes to the plant's power generation are part of the licensing application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Rocky Mountain Power wants to put in a fish passage for Bonneville cutthroat trout and other fish species that may benefit.

In addition, there may be improvements made to benefit recreation access for whitewater enthusiasts along the bypassed reach.

The utility company is planning study proposals for each component of the potential additions to the project, which is nestled between the east and westbound lanes of I-84 just a few miles from the mouth of Weber Canyon.

At full capability, the plant can generate 3.85 megawatts of power, with turbines that have been spinning since 1938 under a power water agreement involving the state water engineer's office and the utility company.

The plant's power generation has been tracked in detail since 1966, resulting in figures that show average monthly output that ranges from a low of 638 megawatt-hours in November to 1,979 megawatt hours in the months of May and July.

In its application to the federal licensing agency, the utility company details one of the most important benefits of the hydropower plant — the ability to store between 30,000 and 40,000 acre-feet of water in the "downtime" of the plant's operation. Because the plant is a run-of-the-river operation, seasonal low flows of the Weber River naturally draw down its output of power.

The volume of water attached to the utility's water rights, however, remains constant so that unused portion collects in upstream reservoirs such as Echo or Deer Creek to the benefit of users on the system.

That water, according to the pending application, is enough to provide 80,000 homes with indoor water and irrigate 10,000 acres of land.

Long a landmark, the plant's footprint has also become a popular recreation spot. Rocky Mountain Power operates a small site on U.S. Forest Service land that includes picnic tables, a grassy area and a fishing platform that includes access for people with disabilities.

The utility company, using survey counts from 2013, estimates that more than 66,000 angler trips were made along this particular stretch of the river.

The Weber project includes a reinforced concrete diversion dam 27 feet high and 79 feet long, upstream from the power house. A 6-foot diameter pipeline about 9,000 feet long conveys water to the power house to turn the hydroelectric turbine and generator. The total project area comprises 8.4 acres, and the diversion dam contains only about 42 acre-feet of water.

In 1909, the president of the Union Pacific Railroad, E.H. Harriman, directed the construction of the Weber project after he acquired the Utah Light and Railway Co.

That company is a predecessor to Rocky Mountain Power, which acquired the railway company in 1944.

According to the utility company, in the early days of electric service in Utah, many small companies built hydroelectric projects on the rivers and creeks of the Wasatch Front.

As the small companies began to falter and consolidate into larger businesses, those businesses then looked to the Weber project to help connect and coordinate operations, taking advantage of infrastructure that was already in place. Several of them continue to operate.

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com

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