Healthy Rivers board will ask county commissioners to oppose Aspen’s possible pursuit of dams on Castle, Maroon Creeks
November 18, 2016
A citizens' board that advises the Pitkin County Commissioners on water issues voted 6-0 Thursday to urge them to "vigorously oppose" the city of Aspen's pursuit of conditional water rights that could result in dams in Maroon and Castle Creek valleys.
A letter from the Pitkin County Healthy Rivers board will advise the county commissioners to formally file statements of opposition to Aspen's continuation of the conditional water rights. The opposition would be made in water court.
The board members said they must not only send the letter to the county commissioners, but also show up in person when the commissioners are considering the issue to show how strongly they feel about the issue.
"This is really the first time that we may have a different perspective" with the commissioners, said Healthy Rivers board chair Lisa Tasker.
Pitkin County Attorney John Ely said the recommendation of the Healthy Rivers board would "carry a lot of weight" with the commissioners.
Nevertheless, board member Dave Nixa pointed out, the county commissioners might be reluctant to take a position against the city since the two political entities historically have worked closely with one another.
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The city filed for water rights on Maroon and Castle Creeks in 1965 as part of a long-term plan to address water supply. Aspen was awarded a "place in line" in 1971 by a water court. The conditional water rights were awarded for a proposed 9,062-acre-foot reservoir in Castle Creek Valley and 4,567-square-foot reservoir in Maroon Creek Valley.
Aspen has to submit a diligence filing periodically, currently every six years, to show it is working toward implementing those water rights and not just sitting on them. After a lengthy debate, the Aspen City Council decided Oct. 31 to renew the diligence filing.
The deadline for any objection to the city's filing is Dec. 31. The conservation groups Wilderness Workshop of Carbondale and Western Resource Advocates of Denver are considering filing objections, representatives told the Healthy Rivers board Thursday.
Aspen Councilman Bert Myrin wants to put an amendment to Aspen's Home Rule Charter before voters that would give voters final say on the dams, if they are ever pursued. It is uncertain if his proposal will advance.
Tasker said the key for getting the Healthy Rivers' position accepted by the county commissioners will be presenting alternatives that the commissioners could suggest to the city.
"We're not just going to send a them a letter that says, 'Don't do it,'" she said.
The letter says, "The Healthy Rivers and Streams Board recommends utilization of county resources to assist and participate with the City of Aspen in vetting alternative strategies to satisfy the city's potential domestic water supply needs."
Will Roush of Wilderness Workshop and Rob Harris of Western Resource Advocates presented one such alternative to the Healthy Rivers board Thursday. They suggested that an application be submitted to the Colorado Water Conservation Board for a higher requirement for peak season, in-stream water flows in the two creeks. If accepted, that would mean more water would flow in the creeks for environmental health. If the water wasn't available to capture in the spring, entities wouldn't be as willing to sink millions of dollars into a dam, according to Harris, who participated in the meeting via speaker phone.
The city wants to keep its options open in case climate change affects its ability to provide adequate water supply. However, Roush noted a June study anticipates Aspen will be able to cover is potable and raw waters needs without the dams and reservoirs in the two scenic valleys.
Roush said after the meeting that the community benefits from having Healthy Rivers and Streams board members advising the county commissioners on the issue.
"The board members are experts on stream health and well versed in the intricacies of Colorado water rights," he said. "They will bring a critical perspective on how best to protect these two streams and ensure they are never dammed or otherwise developed."
Healthy Rivers board member Bill Jochems said he felt the letter of opposition is one of the most important actions the board is taken since is was formed in 2009. "I'm proud of us," he said.
The letter of opposition was supported by Catherine Berg, Andre Wille and Ellie Taylor as well as Nixa, Tasker and Jochems.
The commissioners will likely consider the Healthy Rivers board's letter in early December, Ely said.