City of Aspen extends conservation effort at Wheeler Ditch

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times

The Aspen City Council has extended an agreement with the Colorado Water Trust for a second year, as the two groups work together on an experimental conservation effort at the Wheeler Ditch that officials hope will catch on with other Roaring Fork River water-rights holders.

Director for the Colorado Water Trust, Amy Beatie, said that everybody knows that the effort — which resulted in an increase of about 2 to 3 cubic feet per second for the summer 2013 — is not a long-term solution.

“The idea last year was to try it on for size: Does it work? Let’s monitor it and make sure it does,” she said. “It’s experimental. It’s not a perfect long-term solution, and it’s certainly not going to solve the problems that occur in that stretch of river that can be very water-short.”

Basically, she said, the idea is to take local initiative on a small scale, so that other water users will join the city in solving the problem. She did not name the prospective water users, as a comprehensive inventory on who owns water rights has not been done.

The Wheeler Ditch has three primary purposes: feeding base flows for city stormwater facilities, feeding the streams that run along Aspen’s pedestrian malls, and limited irrigation uses. Director of Utilities and Environmental Initiatives David Hornbacher said that when intake is decreased at the Wheeler Ditch, a city well is used to make up the shortfall in base flows. He estimated the cost of operating the well at around $1,000, adding that operation of the well helps preserve the equipment. Concerning the pedestrian mall streams, he said the decrease in water flow is not significant enough for Aspen’s seasonal visitors to notice.

Hornbacher noted that with the agreement, there is potential need for additional staffing and overtime pay, though no additional labor costs were incurred in 2013 and he expects the same in 2014.

The focus for 2014 will be the same as the year before, when the city decreased the amount of water it takes from the river whenever the local Colorado Water Conservation Board instream flow water right of 32 cubic feet per second was not satisfied.

According to a press release on the agreement, while the median peak snowpack measure at Independent Pass reached 137 percent on April 15, the Roaring Fork River will not necessarily see average or above average flow through the summer.


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