Ames Hydroelectric Project Description

The Ames Project is of significant historical value. It was the first hydroelectric project in the world to generate, transmit, and provide alternating current (AC) power for industrial use. Its design involved the work of pioneers in the design and transmission of electricity generation including Nikola Tesla and L.L. Nunn (L.L. Nunn was the owner of the Gold King Mine and funded the project. His brother eventually started the first AC electrical engineering school in Telluride). The powerhouse is the original building which was designed and constructed for the project.

Project Features

The Ames Hydroelectric Project is located approximately 9 miles south of the town of Telluride, Colorado in San Miguel County (see location map). The Ames Project obtains its water supply from two separate sources: the Lake Fork and the Howards Fork of the San Miguel River. Lake Fork provides the primary source of water to the Ames Project.

Spring snowmelt runoff is stored in Lake Hope and Trout Lake. In late fall and winter, Lake Hope storage is released into the Lake Fork natural channel and flows to Trout Lake. Water is released into from Trout Lake into a steel pipeline (penstock) that roughly parallels the Lake Fork and extends to the Ames powerhouse.

The secondary source of water for the Ames Project is the Howards Fork of the San Miguel River. The Howards Fork diversion dam (located near the town of Ophir) conveys streamflows from the Howards Fork and into a penstock that extends to the Ames Project powerhouse. For a more detailed description of the Ames Project download the Ames Hydroelectric Project: Description of Project Facilities.

Ames Powerhouse

The Ames powerhouse constructed of cut stone masonry has one generating unit creating a capacity of 3.6 megawatts (MW). Because of different heads at the powerhouse, the primary (Trout Lake) and secondary (Howards Fork) flows are connected to a separate turbine, both of which are connected to the generator.

Operation of the Ames Project

The operation of the project is impacted greatly by the amount of precipitation occurring during winter months. Operations can also be impacted to a lesser degree by stream flows in previous years.

Project Dams

Lake Hope Dam

Lake Hope dam is located aoubt 5.5 miles east of the Ames powerhouse. In the early 1900s, the concrete, masonry, and timber dam was constructed to augment storage in a natural lake. Lake Hope has a reported capacity of approximately 2,300 acre-feet and a maximum surface area of about 44 acres.

Water is released from Lake Hope into an unlined rock tunnel extending 816 feet under the embankment and the reservoir. Water flows through fractured rock into the tunnel. Approximately 700 feet from its downstream end, the tunnel is sealed with a stone masonry bulkhead. Flows from the reservoir are diverted into a pipe and valve assembly used to regulate releases.

Trout Lake Dam

Trout Lake Dam is a homogeneous earthfill embankment. Trout Lake has a total storage capacity of approximately 3,200 acre-feet, but only about 2,500 acre-feet active storage. The water surface area at the normal water surface (elevation 9709.1 ft.) is about 138 acres.

A concrete-encased steel outlet pipe connects directly to the Trout Lake penstock, which conveys water for hydroelectric generation to the Ames powerhouse. Releases from Trout Lake into the penstock are controlled by remote communication from the Ames powerhouse to an electrically operated slide gate. Under normal operations, the 36-inch diameter guard gate at the inlet to the pipeline is kept open.

Howards Fork Diversion Dam

The Howards Fork diversion dam is a low earthfill and timber crib embankment extending across the main channel of the Howards Fork of the San Miguel River.

Recreational Opportunities

The primary recreational opportunities available are fishing, picnicking, and boating on Trout Lake and fishing at Lake Hope. Other opportunities include those allowed in the surrounding Forest Service lands such as hiking and cross-country skiing.

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