Ditch owners ditching their duties? | AspenTimes.com

Ditch owners ditching their duties?

Janet Urquhart

A leak in the Riverside Ditch at times sends water down Riverside Avenue and into a gravel parking lot. Standing water that could facilitate breeding mosquitos worries one homeowner, who expressed concerns about mosquito-borne West Nile Virus. Mark Fox/The Aspen Times

An east-side Aspen resident has charged the city with ditching its duties after an irrigation ditch in his neighborhood sprang a leak this summer, but city officials say they’re not anxious to take sole responsibility for the problem.Nonetheless, the city and a private homeowner adjacent to the ditch have stepped up this week to fix the leak. The city arranged to have the flowing water shut off and the remaining water in the ditch pumped out; the homeowner is taking on repair of the trench, according to Stephen Ellsperman, natural resources manager with the city Parks Department.Ellsperman said he does not know if the homeowner owns a share in the ditch.South Riverside Avenue resident Nahum Amiran said his repeated complaints about off-and on-again flooding from the ditch fell on deaf ears with city officials, even though Aspen is a part-owner in the ditch.

“Even if they weren’t an owner, the city should do something,” he fumed last week, charging the city with “neglect” and “prevarication.”Aspen is one of nine owners of the Riverside Ditch, confirmed Phil Overeynder, head of the city’s water and electric utilities.The city has been unsuccessful in its attempts to get all the owners to come together and form a ditch company to oversee the channel’s maintenance, he said.”There doesn’t appear to be a whole lot of interest in doing that,” Overeynder said. “In the meantime, the city has been doing the ditch walking and maintenance.”

The ditch is apparently one of the oldest in the city, taking irrigation water from the Roaring Fork River and returning it to the river near Heron Park. The city became a part-owner when it acquired the property that now contains the Snyder Park housing project, Ellsperman said.The leak began after a contractor installed a culvert to facilitate utility work on the far side of the ditch. When it began flooding a nearby home, the city dug a small trench to carry the water down a hillside to Riverside Avenue, where it pours into a manhole-covered storm drain. But when the leak is at its worst, water also runs down the street and into the gravel parking lot that Amiran and his neighbors use. When the leak abates, it periodically leaves standing pools of water, which flies in the face of the city’s campaign urging residents to rid their properties of water that might facilitate breeding mosquitos and mosquito-borne West Nile virus, Amiran contends. “I don’t believe it’s a West Nile risk,” said Lee Cassin, city environmental health director. When she visited the site, Lee said she saw running water, but no standing, stagnant water.

Last week, Amiran said he was told repeatedly that the city could not and would not take responsibility for the ditch.Though repairs are being made, a long-term solution to its maintenance remains unresolved, Ellsperman said.”We don’t have the authority to make management decisions for the ditch. We’re just one owner,” he said. “We don’t want to be responsible for the capital maintenance of the ditch.”Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com