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Aspen dropping city ditch ordinance

Aspen Times Staff Report

Aspen doesn’t need a new ordinance to ensure its ability to keep water flowing through city ditches after all.

Though the City Council approved a ditch ordinance on first reading back in June, the parks department has decided not to pursue final approval of the ordinance, according to Tom Rubel, parks field supervisor.

After consulting with the city’s water attorney, staffers decided the ordinance is unnecessary, Rubel said. Most of the ditches are in the public right of way, which gives the city control over them. In addition, state law regarding water rights gives the city the power to keep the water flowing.

“We have the authority to do what we need to do now,” Rubel said. “We don’t need another ordinance.”

The ordinance was proposed in reaction to landscaping work by West End landowners that staffers feared would impede water flows and make maintenance of the waterways difficult. It appeared some property owners might face orders to tear out gardens, rocks, trees, pools and other features that had been created in the ditch lines.

The city has water rights on several ditches that run through town. In addition, the city has obligations to provide water to several users, including the Aspen Institute, Aspen Meadows and the Music Associates of Aspen – all in the West End. In June, Rubel noted the city was barely able to meet those commitments.

“I was surprised that we had enough water this year because it was so dry, but we did,” he said.

Rubel said the city has no plans to force landowners to tear out landscaping at this point.

According to a memo he wrote to the City Council, 75 percent of the ditches are still straight and not landscaped in a way that impedes flows. If the city is diligent on reviewing any further alterations to ditches, it should be able to keep the system in good shape, he predicted.

Some landscaping projects appeared last summer that caught the city off guard, Rubel said.

“We’re just going to try to keep a better handle on that,” he said.


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