Aspen seeks more info on hydro | AspenTimes.com

Aspen seeks more info on hydro

Aaron Hedge
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – The Aspen City Council said Monday night that it needs more information about the potential environmental impacts of a proposed hydropower plant that would draw 25 cubic feet per second (cfs) of water from a 2.5 mile stretch of Castle Creek.

A city-contracted consulting firm, Miller Environmental Consultants, studied the creek’s ebb and flow for several months this year, and is saying that, at its driest, Castle Creek needs at least 13.3 cfs to remain healthy.

That figure is a far cry from the peak season just after the spring runoff, when it runs at up to 975 cfs. But the stream hovers just above 13.3 cfs during much of the winter, and a local group of opposition to the project is saying that the hydropower plant will deliver a serious blow to the health of Castle Creek’s ecosystem.

Councilman Torre said he was surprised about the cited impacts of the project, even after visiting the site earlier Monday.

“I got a little bit of surprise and shock from it,” he said.

The rest of City Council and Mayor Mick Ireland agreed, saying they needed more information about the way the stream’s ecosystem works and how the project would affect that.

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“Is there adequate protection in place to ensure the stream’s health?” asked Councilman Steve Skadron.

But Ireland expressed concern that if the City Council decided not to support the project, it would remain open for increasingly greedy water users on the Front Range.

People who live on Castle Creek have said the study was based on shaky data and relies on a “static” cfs number that, while possibly sustainable, may not allow the creek to function at optimal levels.

“There is very, very little water,” said Tom Starodoj, who lives on the stretch in question. “… There’s nothing but a trickle.”

The hydro plant will divert 25 cfs during peak snowmelt, when the stream is running at about 900 cfs in May and June. This is expected to generate enough electricity to save the city around $300,000 a year in power fees.

It would shut down during the driest spells of the year. Castle Creek runs at about 40 cfs during the late summer and fall.

Legally, the city can funnel 60 cfs at any time from the stream, which would dry it up completely during the second half of the winter, but a number of officials have said the city would never exercise that right.

The stream is home to a number of fish species, including rainbow and brown trout and mottled sculpin, as well a number of wildfowl, invertebrates and small and large mammals.

The proposal is part of city’s Canary Initiative to establish a neutral carbon footprint by 2015.

ahedge@aspentimes.com