City lacks sincerity on hydropower issue
I wish to respond to the letter on Aspen’s water rights regarding the hydropower proposal written by Scott Writer on Jan. 6:
If the city loses the challenge now pending in water court it is unlikely that it will actually lose any real water. More likely it would lose only the right to apply diverted water to hydroelectric generation. The matter now in water court deals with the use of the water for hydro, not the actual water to which the city is entitled. The court could very well decide that the city has abandoned its right to use water for hydroelectric generation since the city has not used water for that purpose in 54 years. The ability to use that same water for other needs, now and in the future, would still remain. The decision and the details are up to the water court.
Opponents of the project are not ignoring or discounting the value of this water. We simply object to distortions and fear-mongering regarding water issues and what might happen. The same goes for minimum in-stream flow needs and rights.
The city has never had the legal ability to provide any water on its own above the decreed legal minimum flows to protect the environment. It is pure fantasy for the city or anyone else to claim they might. Only the state, through the Colorado Water Conservation Board, can hold a legal right for a minimum in-stream flow to protect the environment. If the city wants to ensure more water for environmental flow needs, it must dedicate that water to the Conservation Board. The city cannot act on its own in providing water for environmental in-stream flow needs. It has no legal right to do so. If the city did act on its own, it really could lose the actual water.
The city’s recent study determined that Castle Creek needs more than the 12 cubic feet per section of minimum flow protection. Again, to provide this extra water the city must dedicate the additional water to the Conservation Board. So far the city, despite its promises, has done nothing to move in that direction. Mr. Writer should hold the city accountable for ignoring this while devoting its energy to a hydro project that could damage the streams.
But the legal minimum stream flows never have been and never will be enough to preserve the environments of Castle or Maroon creeks. The streams need a natural flow of both high and low water. A flat-line minimum for any extended period will kill the stream as surely as drying it completely.
So far, the city has been long on promises about truly protective environmental flows but very short on actually moving in a direction that could legally provide the water for those flows. If they had been more sincere in this perhaps we would be less critical of their plans.
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