Aspen hydro project cuts off public input
Aspen needs to play by the rules like everyone else. The debate over the Castle Creek Project is not a debate about the merits of hydropower. Hydropower has been a part of our country’s energy portfolio for over 150 years and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. It is, however, a mistake to assume that because hydropower does not produce carbon emissions, it is unequivocally green. Hydropower projects both big and small have real impacts on healthy rivers and the communities that depend on them for recreation, clean water, and business.
While the Castle Creek Project may be small in size, it has big implications. Aspen is calling the project something that it is not – a conduit exemption – so the city can avert the law and avoid meaningful public review of the project forever. This will set a terrible precedent that will dewater streams elsewhere.
American Rivers supports installing hydropower in preexisting conduits like municipal water supply pipes, irrigation ditches, and water treatment outfalls. Because of our broad interest in national hydropower policy we will, however, oppose any attempt to mischaracterize this project as a conduit exemption. The Castle Creek project is not a conduit exemption by any stretch of the imagination. Mr. Udall and Mr. Schendler are exactly right in their opinion piece, when they state the project will, in effect, recreate the plant that was shut down in the 1950s (“Aspen should take the lead on clean hydropower,” March 1, The Aspen Times). That plant was not a conduit project and neither is this project.
It does not take a PhD to see that the city’s proposal will have a very real impact on the health of Castle and Maroon Creeks. Mr. Udall and Mr. Schendler’s assertion that this “run-of-the-river project has been studied nigh unto exhaustion” suggests that they did not even read the study prepared by Dr. Miller. Dr. Miller’s study is a great start but he was not asked to answer important questions. For one, he was not asked to study the impacts of taking half the water out of the creeks for significant periods during the year.
Generally, there is little opposition to conduit exemption projects. It is virtually unprecedented that over 60 citizens, including many that do not live on Castle and Maroon Creeks, as well as national organizations including American Rivers, Trout Unlimited, and Western Resource Advocates oppose the city’s pursuit of a conduit exemption. Something doesn’t add up.
Aspen’s commitment to emission-free energy is laudable, and American Rivers would welcome the opportunity to work with the city to develop a responsible plan for hydropower on Castle Creek – to do exactly what Mr. Udall and Mr. Schendler support – help Aspen take the lead on sustainable hydropower. We will however, vigorously oppose any plan that limits public review and further degrades the creeks.
We all hope that the Colorado our grandchildren know will resemble the one we love. For most of us, healthy rivers are a central component of that vision.
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