A little hydro-electric history

Dear Editor:

As a longtime advocate of renewable hydroelectric energy for Aspen, I offer the following comments and excerpts from a letter to the editor I wrote in 1995. While not a lot has been accomplished, the dream lives on. I am confident we can balance the protection of Castle Creek with the production of hydroelectric power.

I was involved with the operation of the original Castle Creek power house in the 1950s. Since that time, I have been an advocate for the redevelopment of the hydroelectric potential in the Aspen area. As the former head of the water department for the city, I was involved with the existing power plant on Maroon Creek. At that time, I stated in a memo my observations as to the conflict with water treatment operations.

However, it was determined that the benefits of a hydroelectric plant outweighed the inconveniences. In 1973, in order to preserve its water rights on Maroon Creek, the city built a new pipeline into the treatment plant. Lack of funds delayed the replacement of the old 1829 crib-walled dam on Maroon Creek until the mid-80s, when an arrangement was made with the Deane family that allowed construction access for a new dam. A joint venture agreement was made for the development of a power house log cabin on land owned by the Deane family.

The design and selection of the turbine for peak operations was not compatible with pipeline capacity in winter because Maroon Creek is subject to variable flows. In spite of these handicaps, I was able to operate the turbine at a limited output even when demands for treated water and snowmaking were paramount. This required innovation and persistence on my part, gained from the many years of experience in rebuilding an antiquated water system and operating the early-day power house under the Castle Creek bridge; which in its day was a tribute to the engineering skill of its builders.

Unfortunately, shortsighted expediency on the part of the Aspen City Council determined that the power house turbines should be scrapped and the building turned into a maintenance shop. We cannot undo the mistakes of the past, but we can learn from them and consider the advice of those with experience under adverse conditions. I hope this community will begin to plan for the future and have the vision to see beyond moments of self-interest.

Jim Markalunas