City rejects settlement proposal in Castle, Maroon dam cases |

City rejects settlement proposal in Castle, Maroon dam cases

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Journalism

The city of Aspen has rejected an initial settlement offer made in the unfolding water court cases about conditional water rights tied to two large potential dams on Castle and Maroon creeks.

The Larsen Family Limited Partnership’s proposal required the city to stay, or put on hold, its two current applications to the court to extend its conditional storage rights for another six years.

Then the city could file a new request with the water court to change those conditional water rights to another location and size outside of the Castle and Maroon creek valleys and somewhere within the city limits.

“Our offer was quite clear that there were terms that could be negotiated, and the basic concept was that we would support (along with the other opposers) Aspen’s relocation of its dam rights, in a location and amount to be determined through negotiation,” Marcella Larsen of Larsen Family LP said.

In a letter dated May 11, Larsen Family attorney Craig Corona told the city, “If there’s no objection and the change is decreed, dams won’t be built in the wilderness and the city will retain its water rights — a win-win.”

After the Aspen City Council talked about the water court cases in executive session May 22, the city’s water attorney, Cynthia Covell, sent a response the next day rejecting the settlement proposals: “Aspen cannot accept your client’s settlement offer,” Covell wrote.

The water court review was triggered when Aspen filed two applications in October to maintain its conditional water storage rights, which were decreed in 1971.

As currently decreed the Maroon Creek Reservoir would hold 4,567 acre-feet of water behind a 155-foot-tall dam just below the confluence of East and West Maroon creeks, within view of the Maroon Bells. The Castle Creek Reservoir would hold 9,062 acre-feet of water behind a 170-foot-tall dam across Castle Creek two miles below Ashcroft.

Larsen Family LP is one of 10 opposing parties in the resulting “due diligence” cases now before the Division 5 water court referee in Glenwood Springs. The other parties include the U.S. Forest Service, Pitkin County, four environmental organizations and three owners of high-end residential property in the Castle and Maroon creek valleys.

Corona told the city there was a “general consensus” among the other parties in the case in support of the Larsen Family proposal, which only pertained to the Maroon Creek Reservoir case.

But the city decided to sit on its cards.

“A new application to change the location (of) the Maroon Creek Reservoir conditional storage right would require that a new location be specified,” the city’s May 23 letter said, according to an attorney in the case. “Aspen must complete its supply/demand study and identify an alternative location or locations for the Maroon Creek Reservoir storage right in order to be able to file a change application to move that right, or some portion thereof, to another location.”

Asked about the rejection of the settlement offer, Aspen City Manager Steve Barwick would only say last week via email that the city “is still working with all parties in the water case with the hope of reaching a mutually agreeable settlement. We are still trying to refine water supply and demand estimates and study alternative storage locations.”

A second closed-door and facilitated settlement meeting hosted by the city for the opposing parties is being set up for the first week of August. The first such meeting was held in March.

Aspen Journalism is collaborating with The Aspen Times, the Glenwood Springs Post Independent, the Vail Daily and the Summit Daily on coverage of water and rivers in the upper Colorado River basin. More at

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