Aspen and Pitco eye threat to Roaring Fork |

Aspen and Pitco eye threat to Roaring Fork

River guide Mike Graney waits for a line to tie around a tree that fell into the Roaring Fork in the Slaughterhouse section Friday. A potential Front Range reservoir expansion could affect river flows. Aspen Times photo/Jim Noelker.

Local officials are keeping a wary eye on Congress for legislation related to a water project that could divert an additional 10 percent of the upper Roaring Fork River before it reaches Aspen.For the past three years, U.S. Rep. Joel Hefley has sponsored legislation to study the feasibility of enlarging Pueblo Reservoir. If that enlargement took place, it could spur a greater amount of diversions from the headwaters of the Roaring Fork, according to Phil Overeynder, director of the Aspen Water Department.The bill hasn’t passed, but Hefley is expected to take another crack at it this session.The Twin Lakes Canal Co. already diverts up to 1,300 feet of water per day from the river’s headwaters when possible in spring and summer. Diversion structures collect water at places like New York and Tabor creeks along Independence Pass, send it into a tunnel that burrows beneath the Continental Divide and empty it into Lake Creek. From there the water spills into Twin Lakes, gets released into the Arkansas River and, finally, to Pueblo Reservoir.The water that would normally flow down the Roaring Fork instead irrigates crops in the Arkansas River Valley and supplies water for municipal and industrial uses in Colorado Springs and surrounding towns.Between the diversions to the Front Range and, to a lesser extent, diversions by the Salvation Ditch just east of Aspen, about 54 percent of the Roaring Fork River’s flow is already directed elsewhere before it reaches the town’s limits, Overeynder estimated.

The Twin Lakes Canal Co. has the rights to divert more water and would do so if it had some place to store it, Overeynder said. That’s why Aspen and Pitkin County are unnerved by efforts to expand Pueblo Reservoir.”We’ve taken an active role in opposing it,” Overeynder said.Colorado Springs, the state’s second largest city, has a controlling interest in the Twin Lakes Canal Co.Both the Aspen and Pitkin County governments will drop their opposition to the expansion of the reservoir and diversion of more water only if minimum stream flows are guaranteed on the Roaring Fork River.”We share this position with the city of Aspen given the precarious flow of the Roaring Fork River in the last several years,” Pitkin County wrote in a letter to the Colorado River Water Conservation District. The entity protects West Slope water interests.The Roaring Fork River was reduced to a narrow stream that a person could step across through the east side of Aspen during the drought of 2002. Along with looking pathetic, the dry stream couldn’t sustain fish.

Hefley’s bill to study the expansion of Pueblo Reservoir, referred to as the Preferred Storage Options Plan, hasn’t received enough support within Colorado’s congressional delegation to advance in the past.Aspen and Pitkin County apparently have two allies in the state’s congressional delegation. Rep. John Salazar, who represents Pitkin County, will oppose any water bill that harms rural Colorado, according to spokeswoman Nayyera Haq.She said Salazar is working on language for a bill that would require any feasibility study to include a look at the economic and environmental impacts of expansion of Pueblo Reservoir on the lower Arkansas River Valley. Salazar is also a strong advocate of making the Front Range compensate the West Slope for any additional diverted water. That could protect Aspen’s interests.Haq said Salazar has been “very forthcoming” with Hefley about his position. She said Salazar isn’t against further development of water resources for the Front Range. He just insists that any diversions mitigate for loses by rural Colorado.Similar concerns were expressed by the spokesman for Rep. Mark Udall, whose district includes Eagle County. Udall communications director Laurence Pacheco said any legislation on Colorado water projects would likely need the support of the entire state delegation for approval.Udall plays an important role in the fate of water bills in Congress. He is on the Water and Power Subcommittee of the House Resources Committee, so he can influence bills on water projects early in the process.

Udall and Salazar are Democrats with large chunks of rural areas within their districts. Hefley is a Republican who represents Front Range areas. His bill to study Pueblo Reservoir’s expansion was co-sponsored last year by fellow Colorado Republicans Bob Beauprez and Tom Tancredo.It remains to be seen if they can compromise on a bill this year and, if they can, if the interests of Aspen and Pitkin County would influence the legislation.Pacheco noted that water issues are never easy to resolve. He said there is a popular saying that goes: “Whiskey’s for drinking, water’s for fighting.”Scott Condon’s e-mail address is

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