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Know the West

Accident shakes Flaming Gorge Dam

  A broken pipe in Utah's Flaming Gorge Dam gave Bureau of Reclamation officials a scare June 21. Downstream, a blue-ribbon trout fishery got a shock, too.

The control room at the dam was empty the evening one of its two bypass tubes burst, gushing water into the dam's power plant, generator room and offices. An electronic alarm alerted officials at a control center near Glen Canyon Dam.

"All I saw was a door completely busted out and water pumping out and I didn't know what to make of it," said Bureau of Reclamation staffer Alvin Schmitt, who thought the Flaming Gorge Dam might collapse when he arrived. "It was just scary." Schmitt and others managed to shut the six-foot-diameter tube manually, averting any serious damage to the structure, reports the Salt Lake Tribune.

Still, shutting off the bypass tube, used to drain heavy spring runoff from Wyoming's Wind River Mountains, meant little water was flowing into the Green River downstream. That left fish swimming in shallow, warm water.

"I'm sure there were some fish heat-shocked," said Roger Schneidervin of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. "Some fish are on the edge and stressed. It just pushed them over the edge."

According to Bureau officials, most fish survived the accident, and the dam was up and running within a week. Safety inspectors haven't yet figured out the cause of the burst pipe, but they say the dam's other jet bypass tube is safe. The Bureau plans to repair the burst pipe later this year.

* Greg Hanscom