Everyone has heard about winterizing homes and cars, but how many people know that the Corps winterizes projects too?
Every year under the leadership of Karl Martin, chief, Lake Operations Branch, his team of dam supervisors and team members perform a number of complex and routine procedures to prepare the District’s nine dams, adjacent lakes and recreation facilities for the winter.
At Cochiti, some of the major actions taken are removing fish screens and shutting down the flow of water feeding two major diversion channels which flow to a myriad of acequias and irrigation ditches criss-crossing the river basins and nearby farm land bracketing portions of New Mexico, Colorado and Texas rivers.
Fish screens are devices placed into tunnels built into the base of the dams to stop fish from moving downstream into the diversion channels, thus keeping the fish in a more conducive environment.
Martin said, “Every November the fish screens at Cochiti Dam are removed from the tunnels in the base of the dam, and the huge steel bulkhead gates are lowered into place. Those gates stop the flow of water into the irrigation canals, since the growing season has ended and the water is no longer needed downstream for agricultural purposes.”
Some of what the dam operators do is similar to normal winterizing that most homeowners engage in this time of year. These steps include draining the water from lines used for swamp coolers and water pipes in unheated outdoor facilities, shutting down air conditioners and preparing furnaces and heaters for safe and efficient operation in cold periods.
At dams that feature recreational facilities, staff pull out the courtesy docks used by boaters, haul in swimming lines and safety buoys and remove handicap fishing docks, all of which could be damaged by freezing water.
Dam operations staff also close boating ramps in order to keep the public off any lake-ice that may form. By the way, Corps employees aren’t being winter “grinches,” they are merely concerned about people’s safety.
Most of our lakes, if they do ice over, really can’t sustain the weight of winter time recreational activities, and usually there are not any rescuers close by to help in an emergency situation.
So, next time you are up on the roof covering your swamp cooler, or having your local mechanic check your car’s anti-freeze level, remember some of your Corps colleagues are already hard at work protecting the Corps’ assets, and insuring the dam’s mechanical infrastructure will stay functional through another cold winter.