Humphreys celebrate 10 years of generating hydroelectric power

Photos by Keith R. Cerny Former State Senator Gail Schwartz, right, and Ruthie Brown discuss the importance of hydroelectric power for Colorado at the Humphreys Lake dam where a single-phase generator powers the town of Creede through an agreement with the San Luis Valley Electric Coop. The single-phase, crossflow turbine generator operating on Humphreys Ranch, is affectionately called “Miss O”, named after the ship “Octavia” that brought the massive unit to the United States from where it was built in Italy by a company specializing in three-phase generators. The generator can produce up to 300 kW which could provide power to 200 homes, according to SLVREC. On Saturday, it was producing 100 kW.

CREEDE — Descendants of A.E. Humphreys and their friends gathered at the dam holding back the reservoir by the same name Saturday, Aug. 21, to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the hydroelectric plant that continues to deliver single phase power to Creede through an agreement with the San Luis Valley Rural Electric Cooperative (SLVREC).

Among those in attendance were about 30 descendants of the founder, covering four generations, as well as former State Senator Gail Schwartz, a longtime promoter of renewable energy.

Ruthie Brown, great-granddaughter of A.E. Humphreys and granddaughter of his son A.E. Humphreys Jr., was credited for her tireless efforts to see the new hydroelectric plant through to production in 2011. The single-phase, crossflow turbine generator, affectionately called “Miss O”, was named after the ship named “Octavia” that brought the massive unit to the United States from where it was built in Italy by a company specializing in three-phase generators.

The generator can produce up to 300 kW which could provide power to 200 homes, according to SLVREC. On Saturday, it was producing 100 kW.

A family friend who they had met at a micro-hydro class, Lee Tavenner, recommended a one-phase system because Creede’s power came through single-phase lines supplied by SLVREC. The plant produces enough power to supply most of the Creede community.

Tavenner had been instrumental in 1998 to research if the Humphreys’ Ranch original powerhouse using water from Haypress could be retooled to supply power for the entire ranch.

The Haypress earthen dam, unfortunately, proved too permeable for this venture. Instead, he oversaw the construction of a small hydro system where the water from the Roaring Fork flows into the lake through the very same pipe that AE senior used to create the lake 75 years earlier.

For this to happen, the old metal pipe — all 6,000 feet of it — had to be replaced — a job that former Humphreys manager Bill Dooley contributed to in several different ways.

Because the diversion cabin and pipeline were in designated wilderness it was necessary to haul pipe up the steep valley using only horses and mules.

This system generated 45 kW of electricity, enough to power the ranch at that point and enough later to inter-tie to the grid system, adding to the power sold down valley, but also operating as a stand-alone system to be used in the event of a power outage on the ranch.

A.E. Humphreys Sr., came into the Goose Creek valley in 1923 and envisioned what might happen if he dammed up the creek to raise trout. History indicates that trout had been over-fished throughout the state, and he wanted to make up for it by filling Goose Creek and the river it feeds, the Rio Grande, with trout.

His first step was to create a nursery lake, Haypress, which he did by putting in a mile-long pipe that stretched from the upper reaches of the Roaring Fork down to a hayfield which when flooded created a shallow lake. He stocked this lake with trout he raised in a fish hatchery next to Humphreys Lake.

According to family members, his vision was “at both Haypress and Humphreys millions of trout will live and thousands are sure to go over the spillway into Goose Creek and the Rio Grande. Which is right, for I want to see the trout streams of Colorado again in the glory they had before they were fished out. I intend to help.”

Humphreys Jr.’s daughter Ruth Brown, mother of Ruthie, and her sister eventually took the helm of the ranch and after buying out her sister in 1968, Ruth orchestrated a land exchange with the U.S. Forest Service that allowed for her full ownership of Haypress and the continuation of the ranch’s relationship with the state in its desire to take spawn from Haypress to stock Colorado’s high mountain streams and lakes with Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout.

Consulting again with Tavenner in 2008, Ruthie Brown spent several years overcoming government red tape to proceed with installing the new generator, including dealing with bureaucrats at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Her parents, DRC and Ruth Brown installed an underground powerline from Humphreys to the 4UR below them in the early 1990s to serve the ranch which in turn became the conduit to take electricity back down to the valley.

Constant monitoring of inflows and outflows assures that gold medal fishing is not impacted on the 4UR.

Former Senator Schwartz, who spoke briefly at the ceremony, said all of Colorado’s reservoirs should be producing hydroelectric power, noting that farmers historically relied on that power for years. She was one of the driving forces behind Colorado voters requiring 30% of the state’s electrical power to come from renewable resources.

Ruthie Brown added that the Humphreys’ micro-hydro, single-phase system which siphons water out of Humphreys Lake has become a model for the world with a similar setup currently under construction in Greenland.

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