Aspen City Council questionnaire, part 3: To dam or not to dam

Ward Hauenstein


Editor's note: The Aspen Times asked five questions of the six candidates vying for the two open seats on Aspen City Council held by incumbents Art Daily and Ann Mullins. Aspen residents should receive their mail ballots this week. Election Day is May 2. Question 1: Tell us about yourself and why you’re running for Aspen City Council?

 Question 2: What area of Aspen city government needs the most improvement?

 Question 3: Why or why not should the city reserve its rights to dam both the Castle and Maroon creeks?

Question 4: Does the Lift 1 side of Aspen Mountain need capital improvements such as a new restaurant, lodge and chairlift, or is it fine the way it is now? Question 5: As a member of City Council, how would you make Aspen more affordable for mom-and-pop or startup businesses? Or do you prefer to let the free market decide?

Editor’s note: This is the third of a five-part questionnaire for the six candidates vying for the two open seats on Aspen City Council held by incumbents Art Daily and Ann Mullins. Aspen residents should receive their mail ballots this week. Election Day is May 2.

Today’s question: Why or why not should the city reserve its rights to dam both the Castle and Maroon creeks?

Ward Hauenstein

The city should not build dams on either Maroon or Castle creeks. The environment should not be compromised.

The population projections that I have seen that would require a dam for water storage is 17,000. I do not see that ever happening. Dams will damn the creeks. The city needs to study all available water storage options, and the current City Council is pursuing that path. They have contracted a water consultant to study water storage options. City Council must look to the future needs of water. It is doing that. Dams on Maroon or Castle creeks should not be an option.

One of my stated top three goals is to ensure that if a future City Council approves the construction of a dam on either or both Maroon or Castle creeks that the citizens have to approve it via a vote. Building a dam would be an administrative decision that is not subject to an initiative. I support an amendment to the charter to require a public vote to build a dam.

Skippy Mesirow

This is a critical issue and one which provides an opportunity to demonstrate real leadership. As City Council member, I will ensure that Aspen maintains and strengthens its role as a leader in environmental stewardship. As a leader, we must embrace smart environmental policy, not embrace false dichotomies that leave us vulnerable to demagoguery. I am opposed and would not vote for the currently proposed dams. They are the wrong scale and in the wrong place. They are also not necessary for today’s needs. That said, I am also committed to maintaining our water rights for an uncertain climate future. I am not willing to relinquish the rights that we may need in a hotter, dryer, less stable climate future. Protecting our children’s water security is paramount, and this can and must be done in concert with protecting our wildlife habitat.

We should:

1. Say “no” to the currently proposed dams.

2. Work to maintain our water right.

3. Explore other (future) methods for water storage outside our wilderness area.

4. Execute prudent leadership that ensures water security.

5. Take prudent steps to plan for an uncertain climate future.

Ann Mullins

The last thing I want to see are dams in our valleys. We need to be considering three things: protecting our valleys, protecting our streams and protecting our water rights. Determining to build or not build a dam is premature in the larger discussion of our future water needs and resources, and the effects of climate change. Instead we are striving for prudent water management for our citizens and environment. The city is not reserving its rights “to dam both … creeks” but is reserving its right to store water, in some configuration, for the future. Aspen has the next few years to look closely at water storage: How much do we need to store and where can it be stored? To get the answers we have asked for information about population projections, water needs, water availability and climate-change impacts on water resources. In addition, we are looking at alternative ways to store water, additional sources of water and continued conservation of our water. The last thing I want to do is build a dam, and in the next few years with the cooperation of everyone concerned we can come up with the solution that works for Aspen.

Art Daily

For the past 50 years or so our City Council has supported a continuing effort on the part of the city to maintain diligence for two conditional water storage rights in the Castle and Maroon creek valleys. In part because of growing uncertainties about the potential effects of climate change on our community water supply, council passed Resolution 141, Series of 2016, last October directing staff to implement certain water-management measures to improve resiliency against future climate change impacts, including direction to pursue actions in four task areas. A substantial multi-year effort is being undertaken to implement these tasks, and monthly reports will provide updates on staff’s progress. From my limited perspective, it doesn’t appear that we know enough yet about these matters in order to choose to give up our conditional rights or to otherwise change our present direction in connection therewith. Frankly, I don’t believe that anyone on the council has any current desire to build the subject dams, but it would not seem in the best interests of the community to give up any of our legal rights until these ongoing analyses have been completed.


It is unfortunate that our water rights on Castle and Maroon creeks for emergency service are linked to the construction of dams and reservoirs. This is not the solution that our community supports. The city should be progressive and honest in our planning. Right now we are telling the state one thing and our citizens another. I am prepared to represent the public sentiment that we do not care for the environmental impact that dam and reservoir construction impart. With no intention to build the dam facilities, we should seek to convert the water rights to another source and storage option or to instream flow. There are new conversations about alternative solutions that need to be explored. While water rights are vital for our municipality, Aspenites hold environmental respect in the highest regard. We must balance the needs we have with the protection of our natural surroundings.

Sue Tatem

I have many unanswered questions, but no firm opinion yet.