Dam won’t be built in Snowmass | AspenTimes.com

Dam won’t be built in Snowmass

Katie Redding
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado

SNOWMASS VILLAGE ” The Snowmass Water and Sanitation District should soon obtain the raw water storage it has been seeking, but it won’t be in the form of a 60-foot dam and half-mile long reservoir on Snowmass Creek.

Within the next 30 days, the district expects to purchase its first reservoir from the Ziegler family. As part of the deal, it will cancel its right to build a controversial dam and reservoir on Snowmass Creek.

On April 9 and May 14, the Pitkin County commissioners approved the district’s request to expand Ziegler Reservoir and make it a public water supply. With that approval in hand, district manager Kit Hamby plans to purchase 17.5 acres of land, the reservoir and the Ziegler’s water rights for $3.5 million ” substantially less than market value, according to Peter Ziegler.

The district intends to expand the reservoir from 57 to 225 acre feet, at a cost of $6 million to $7 million. Hamby said the purchase and expansion will be financed through tap fees. The district may also take a loan out from the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Though Hamby hoped the district will have use of the reservoir by this fall, he doubted the expansion would happen before 2011. Because of a backlog, adjudication in water court alone could take two to three years, he said.

The reservoir is being acquired against emergencies, not for future consumption needs, according to Hamby. The district has adequate water rights even for the proposed buildout of Snowmass Village, he said, but they are almost totally reliant on stream flows. He expects the reservoir to allow the district to store water when it is plentiful and use it when the district sees fit.

Ziegler believes the reservoir will give the district its storage while still preserving Snowmass Creek. In a March 4 letter to the commissioners, Ziegler explained that his family had purchased the lake and surrounding lands specifically in order to preserve the Snowmass Valley and its creek. More than five years ago, wrote Ziegler, he approached the district with the offer to sell Ziegler Reservoir in exchange for the district’s promise not to dam Snowmass Creek.

According to Snowmass Capitol Creek Caucus member Sue Helm, the dam would have impacted the creek’s fish, and the reservoir would have flooded high-grade wetlands. By contrast, the Ziegler Reservoir won’t be an on-creek reservoir, and it will merely expand an existing water body.

“Is our agreement with SWSD a perfect solution for Snowmass Valley?” asked Ziegler in his letter. “No,” he answered, “but the right question to ask is whether Snowmass Valley will be better off without Sam’s Knob Reservoir and with an expanded pond in the Brush Creek Basin.”

Ziegler went on to express his frustration with the Snowmass Capitol Creek Caucus, an organized group of Old Snowmass residents who say their aim is to ensure the health of Snowmass Creek. Though the district, which serves Snowmass Village, owns the senior water rights for Snowmass Creek, the creek actually flows through Old Snowmass.

The caucus had supported the deal, believing the expansion of Ziegler Reservoir would impact Snowmass Creek much less than flooding the valley. However, it had then asked the commissioners for clearer language, in their conditions, in order to protect Snowmass Creek.

The caucus has long watched the district with concern, say members. The proposed reservoir worried them, as do the district’s senior water rights. The rights allow the district to drain the Snowmass Creek below the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s minimum stream-flow requirements. Taking the creek below minimum requirements for any length of time degrades it, say members.

“We have been trying to have, for a long time, a dialogue with the district to impress upon them that even though they have the right to drain the creek, it would be better not to drain the creek,” said caucus member Chelsea Brundige. “Our position has been ‘there’s enough water go around, we just have to figure out a way to use it wisely.”

In the end, the caucus received their language from the commissioners, and the district received permission to expand the reservoir.

But according to Helm, the district still has not promised it won’t draw the creek below minimum stream flow. So the caucus of Old Snowmass residents intends to continue watching Snowmass Village’s use of “their” stream.

“Old Snowmass and Snowmass have the same name, but they’ve never been the same place” said Brundige.

kredding@aspentimes.com


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