Aspen’s Castle Creek hydro project draws fire
June 17, 2010
ASPEN – Aspen officials said Wednesday that a Castle Creek hydropower project will not endanger the stream’s ecosystem, citing a recent study by a private ecological consulting firm.
But people who live on Castle Creek say the study, which was commissioned by the city, was based on shaky data and relies on a “static” cubic feet per second (cfs) number that, while possibly sustainable, may not allow the creek to function at optimal levels.
“This project is an ecological train wreck,” said Tom Starodoj, a resident of the area, during Wednesday’s public meeting.
The study established that Castle Creek needs at least 13.3 cubic feet per second at its lowest point of the year, which is typically between January and April when the cfs hovers around 20. Phil Overeynder, the city’s public works director, said in the meeting that figure is easily sustainable.
Overeynder said the city remains confident in the numbers the study relies on, which were generate in the early 1990s. Bill Miller of Miller Ecological Consultants, Inc., which conducted the study, said the life of the waterway will remain healthy if the project is completed.
Miller assured skeptics that the vibrancy of the stream depends not on a certain cfs during dry times, but on the complex cycle of peaks and furloughs it goes through every year. He said the city would not have the flexibility to drain the stream, though it is legally within its right to do so.
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“They don’t have the capacity to do that,” he said.
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 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 will shut down during the driest spells of the year. Castle Creek runs at about 40 cfs during the late summer and fall.
Other attendees at the meeting expressed concern that the requirement to shut down the plant during low flows would result in negligible returns on the project’s multimillion-dollar investment, while not providing enough green energy to matter.
Overeynder said he is confident the “economics of the project are good.”
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 at the meeting said the city would never exercise that right.
The proposal is part of city’s Canary Initiative to establish a neutral carbon footprint by 2015.