Preparations have begun to bring down the dam that has withheld water from 14 miles of Fossil Creek in central Arizona for almost a hundred years.
In 1908, laborers built
Arizona’s first commercial hydroelectric plant, which
diverted more than 95 percent of Fossil Creek’s water. The
plant, along with a second facility built nearby in 1914, generated
power for parts of Phoenix and for mining communities near Prescott
But these days, the two plants, which
together generate four megawatts, power only about 1,000 homes. So,
in 1999, Arizona Public Service — the state’s biggest
electric utility and owner of the plants — bowed to public
pressure to restore Fossil Creek, and agreed to shut the plants
down. The utility also promised to put $13 million toward resuming
full water flow and re-establishing native fish populations (HCN,
12/6/99: Fossil Creek Will Flow Again).
In fall 2004, the
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission finally approved the plan. In
November, 90 interagency biologists airlifted about 1,200 native
Arizona fish, including speckled dace and roundtail chubs, to
safety in holding tanks. Then they poisoned the non-native fish,
and later returned the natives to the creek’s upper reaches.
The utility plans to redirect the reservoir’s water
around the dam for a couple of years, then lower the 25-foot-high
main dam by 14 feet. "We want to re-establish habitats before
bringing it down," says Mark Fallon, an Arizona Public Service
Full flows and plant decommissioning were
originally scheduled for December 2004. Heavy rains and pending
final approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission pushed
that date back to mid-May. The entire area should be restored to
its pre-power plant state by 2009. Says Fallon, "That’s when
we’re scheduled to walk out of the forest."