Taking snowplows to new heights
When 8 inches of snow fell over Strontia Springs Reservoir and Waterton Canyon in late January, Denver Water’s on-site employees didn’t take a snow day.
Instead, they fired up their plows, graders and loaders and went to work.
“We work in a mountain environment and when it snows, we have to keep our roads clear so we can get to the dam,” said Heath Stuerke, Strontia Springs Dam supervisor.
Stuerke and his team need round-the-clock access to the dam to adjust how much water is released into the river, maintain the facility and operate Strontia’s hydropower equipment.
“The roads leading to the dam are steep, winding and can get icy,” Stuerke said. “If we don’t plow them, our vehicles could slide down the embankment and into the South Platte River.”
When enough snow falls, the Strontia team uses a grader to plow the 6.5-mile service road, which is also used as the recreation trail up Waterton Canyon, a front-end loader to clear snow on the roads leading up to the dam, and a smaller loader to remove snow that falls on top of the dam.
“We need to keep the top of the dam clear so we can safely walk and drive across it,” Stuerke said. “We also do routine structural safety checks, so it’s important that we can see the concrete.”
Plowing a 660-foot path across top of the dam is not for anyone with a fear of heights. The dam is 299 feet above the river.
“It’s a little scary at first, but you get used to it,” said John-Paul Alexander, a facility operator at Strontia Springs. “We all work together up here and have a system in place to remove snow when the storms hit.”
Crews at all of Denver Water’s major mountain reservoirs perform the same duties when snow falls.
“It can take all day to clear the roads and the dam after a good storm,” Stuerke said. “Plowing is one of those important jobs we do in the winter to keep our dams running so we can get water to our customers.”