Do we want streams on life support?
October 16, 2012
Water is the life of the West. Protecting and maintaining that natural resource is a trust that is critical to the sustainability of our natural ecosystems and consequently to human culture.
How we keep that trust is startlingly straightforward – we simply have to maintain natural processes. The natural processes that maintain clean and abundant water are found in the water cycle where water emanates from our surrounding forests, travels through soils and discharges into our streams and wetlands – and then up again via evapotranspiration into the atmosphere to come down again as snow or rain to continue the cycle.
Each part of that cycle is essential to the functioning of the whole cycle – when any part is altered, the whole suffers. The proposed Castle Creek hydroelectric project disrupts and alters that cycle and in so doing degrades ecosystem functions and the ability of the ecosystem to provide clean, abundant water and diminishes the viability of stream organisms and riparian forests.
Riparian woodlands that line the banks of Castle and Maroon creeks require abundant and regular out-of-bank flows for long-term health. Riparian habitat is naturally rare in Colorado and yet provides essential habitat for more than 80 percent of Colorado’s native animal species. Riparian vegetation cleanses and stores water, stabilizes stream banks, creates habitat for aquatic and terrestrial life and is ultimately vital to maintaining stream health. The proposed alterations in streamflows to provide water for the hydroelectric facility will degrade the riparian woodlands and their functions, as well as degrade the stream ecosystems of Castle and Maroon creeks.
The Castle Creek hydroelectric project promises to maintain minimum stream flows. Minimum stream flows do not maintain healthy streams. Minimum stream flows are akin to putting a person on life support – yes they’re alive, but not very functional. Western streams have evolved with a rhythm, a pulse, which is tuned to the natural cycles of climate that create the ebb and flow of western streams, including especially the high flows in spring that replenish riparian woodlands and recreate the pools and riffles that provide habitat for fish. The proposed hydroelectric project will flatline the pulse of the stream, effectively putting the stream on life support – living, but barely.
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We can have both a healthy stream and renewable, clean energy. Vote against the Castle Creek hydroelectric facility and vote for clean energy; vote “no” on 2C.
Delia G. Malone