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Old dam, new name: Northwestern Energy renames Dam at Mystic Lake for retired CEO

Rowe Dam at Mystic Lake
Posted at 9:54 PM, Sep 13, 2023

WEST ROSEBUD — A high-altitude dam tucked away in the Beartooth Mountains will now be called Rowe Dam at Mystic Lake, Northwestern Energy says, in honor of the company's recently retired CEO, Bob Rowe.

Rowe served as President & CEO of Northwestern Energy for 14 years and led the company in its purchase of 11 hydroprojects across Montana in 2018.

“The values in our Montana system aren't just the energy production. It's also the ability to help keep the grid stable," Rowe said.

Out of the eleven projects, which together account for 33% of Northwestern Energy's in-state energy production, Rowe has a favorite—perched high in the mountains on the breath-taking Mystic Lake.

“It's an engineering marvel—the crown jewel, the flagship of the fleet," Rowe said.

For nearly 100 years, the dam built upon on the north end of Mystic Lake has provided power to communities throughout the region, including Columbus, Absarokee, Red Lodge, Nye and the Stillwater Mine.

At an elevation of 7,600 feet, the dam was built in 1925 and sends 12 megawatts of power down the mountain to a station house sitting 1,100 feet below.

While it may be the smallest of the eleven hydroprojects, it may be the most unique.

”It's kind of unique for Montana to have this kind of head pressure to produce the 12 megawatts that we generate here," said Joe Ruprecht, one of three operators working in the mountains to keep the dam humming.

The so-called head pressure builds where the snow melt-fed lake meets the dam and Ruprecht's team controls how much water is released based on needs of power and streamflow—essentially making Mystic Lake one large, natural battery.

“There's 52 other lakes that feed into Mystic and we can just kind of bring up our generation up and down to when it's needed," Ruprecht said.

Between its history, geography, and power potential, the dam catches many people's attention, including that of Rowe.

“We knew Bob's favorite dam was the dam at Mystic Lake," said Brian Bird, president & CEO of Northwestern Energy and Rowe's successor. "The reason we knew that was his favorite is because in the world of Zoom, his background was a picture of that dam.”

Planting the idea for the perfect retirement gift.

“I thought it made sense as a way to honor Bob," Bird said.

The name change was announced in December at Rowe's departure from the company, with approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and signage around the popular hiking trails now reflects the difference.

“I was speechless, choked up. It was extraordinary," Rowe said.