Healthy Rivers fund goes to Aspen hydro review

Aaron Hedge
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – The Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board is looking to spend $15,000 on a mediation effort for the city of Aspen’s controversial Castle Creek hydropower project.

The board wants to bring in independent contractors to find a middle ground between the city and a number of Pitkin County residents who have voiced concerns that the project will have deleterious effects on Castle and Maroon creeks, where flows would be reduced to feed the hydropower plant.

City officials had originally proposed taking enough water from Castle Creek to decrease its flows to about 14 cubic feet per second, or cfs, for as much as six months a year. Currently, the stream runs that low for only about two months a year.

However, if the city never took the stream below 19 cfs, the project would still be financially viable, City Manager Steve Barwick said during a recent City Council meeting.

The project has the potential to save the city electric utility hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in the cost of providing power once the construction debt is paid off, in 28 years.

Ruthie Brown, chairwoman of the Healthy Rivers and Streams Board, said the mediation will bring in a “whole crew of experts in the field.”

She declined Tuesday to talk in further detail about the personnel involved in the initiative because the board is still negotiating with contractors.

“In three or four days, we will have a lot more information that we can go public with,” she said.

A county memo regarding the $15,000 expenditure says the “review process would be in conjunction with valley nonprofits and other public citizen boards.” The memo also indicates the expenditure will allow an independent review of the hydrology and other information the city has used regarding the project’s impacts on Castle and Maroon creeks.

The Healthy Rivers and Streams Fund was created in November 2008, when county voters authorized a 0.1 percent tax to create a fund to maintain and improve water quality and quantity within the Roaring Fork River watershed. The hydro project review is among its first projects.

The city will not be involved in the study, Brown said.

The proposed Castle Creek hydro project would divert 25 cfs from Castle Creek and 27 cfs from Maroon Creek, and return the water to Castle Creek after it flows through the hydropower plant.

The City Council has tabled its decision on whether to proceed with the hydro project to Oct. 16.

A drainline that will transport water from Thomas Reservoir above town to the hydro plant is under construction.